The Football Ferns have been given a timely confidence boost to their Rio Olympics campaign by earning a 1-1 draw last night with the Australian Matildas at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.
The Ferns, who lost 2-0 to the Matildas on Saturday in Ballarat, delivered a much-improved effort and dominated the match for long periods. They probably should have won for the first time in the past 27 encounters between the Trans-Tasman rivals.
The World No 16 took the lead in the 63rd minute thanks to a superb strike from Katie Bowen from outside the area.
After clever build-up work from substitute Sarah Gregorious, Bowen did not hesitate with her left foot strike that easily beat the keeper and netted her first international goal in her 37th appearance.
New Zealand taking the lead kick-started the Matildas into life and they responded when Lisa De Vanna hit a fine shot across the face of goal to beat Kiwi keeper Erin Nayler in the 72 minute.
It was somewhat against the run of play as the Ferns had dominated the possession and shots on goal for long periods.
The Ferns could easily point to the fact that in the 62nd minute they should have been awarded a penalty when a strike from Betsy Hassett hit a Matildas hand inside the box but it was waved away by the referee.
The Matildas had the best of the chances in the final 20 minutes but were unable to convert. Nayler, who had a superb night in goal to thwart a number of goal scoring chances, stopped a Katrina Gorry shot from close range.
Striker Michelle Heyman put a shot in the back of the net moments later but she was rightfully judged to be offside.
But for the majority of the match it was New Zealand who looked like the World No 5 as their hopes of contending for a medal at the Rio Olympics in August took a huge boost from a gutsy performance.
The Ferns had a plethora of chances – in the 54th minute Erceg hit the bar with a thundering header and Gregorious also had a strike hit the wood work a minute later – before Bowen made her chance count.
It looked like the Ferns were on the cusp of history and a famous win but the Matildas came back to level.
Still there was more than enough to suggest that the Football Ferns are capable of great things on the world stage and will be a team the world’s best will be wary of at the Rio Olympics.