Football Ferns' hopes for a maiden round of 16 appearance were dashed after drawing 0-0 with world number 20 Switzerland. But despite not qualifying for the knockout rounds this campaign was still historic, with the side having secured that opening day win and finishing the group stage with four points and two cleansheets – their best ever showing at a World Cup.
Group A entered the third round of games on incredibly tight margins, with each of the four teams still in the hunt for knockout football. Before kick-off the Ferns knew a win would guarantee them passage to the round of 16, while a draw would only allow it dependent on the result in the Norway v Philippines game being played concurrently at Eden Park.
But as Norway stormed to 3-0 lead after just the half an hour mark, it left the Ferns with the task of needing a win to secure passage to the round of 16, and the Swiss now had to not lose.
Head coach Jitka Klimková made two changes to the XI that started against Norway and Philippines, with Annalie Longo and Liv Chance coming in for Betsy Hassett and Indiah-Paige Riley.
For the duration of the 90 minutes, cheers reverberated around the 25,947-strong Dunedin Stadium, picking up where Eden Park and Wellington Stadium left off.
The Ferns’ first significant chance of the match fell in the 23rd minute, as Jacqui Hand latched on to a long ball and attempted to lob Gaelle Thallmann from a tight angle – but was denied by the upright.
Switzerland’s only real chance came on the stroke of regular time, after Seraina Piubel lost CJ Bott, but could only fire her shot into the arms of Vic Esson.
Klimková made just one change at halftime, swapping Chance for Indiah-Paige Riley.
The second half played out much like the first, with the Ferns dominating but still unable to score. Hand again came close, in the 88th minute with a long range effort, but Thallmann again had a simple stop to make.
Eigth minutes of added time signalled by the fourth official greeted by Klimková and her assistant coach Michael Mayne urging the Ferns forward, immediately met by Rennie chargin to the byline, playing Indiah-Paige Riley in, whose cross found Jale, but again Thallmann was untroubled.
Despite hustling and harrying and proving themselves equal to or better than the Swiss in every measure, despite displaying a composed urgency that evaded them in Wellington, the Ferns were unable to find the decisive goal to give them the win they so urgently craved, and were unable to secure their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup round of 16 appearance.
Klimková gave her reflections after the game:
"We wanted to win this game. We knew if we won it, we would go through. While the result, unfortunately didn't go our way, but a performance, what you could see tonight from our players was another very solid performance on the World Cup stage.
"I'm very proud of our team, what we've done during this World Cup.
"When I saw sold out stadiums and the connection that we had with New Zealand during the last few weeks, that's what we were aiming for. And we got this.
"A lot of players that been with this team for a long time, they had to wait for five world cups to have this moment of celebration to win their first World Cup game. And we had seven debutants, seven players who stepped on the field for the first time ever at the World Cup. And we achieved four points, we got two clean sheets - an absolutely amazing result from this team. And I am sure we really inspired a lot of young girls and boys to start loving football and playing football. That was another of our priorities and goals. So again, I'm sorry for the result and that we didn't go through, but I'm very proud, very proud of this team."
Football Ferns starting XI
21. Vic Esson (GK); 7. Ali Riley (C); 14. Katie Bowen; 13. Rebekah Stott (62’ 3. Claudia Bunge); 4. CJ Bott; 10. Annalie Longo (62’ 12. Betsy Hassett); 6. Malia Steinmetz; 2. Ria Percival (72’ 18. Grace Jale); 16. Jacqui Hand; 17. Hannah Wilkinson (82’ 9. Gabi Rennie); 11. Liv Chance (46’ Indiah-Paige Riley)
Article added: Sunday 30 July 2023
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