Football Ferns outclassed by Australia in opening match at the Tokyo Olympics
A late goal for forward Gabi Rennie on debut wasn’t enough to hide the fact that the Football Ferns were outclassed by Australia in their Tokyo Olympics opener on Wednesday night.
The 20-year-old’s stoppage-time header meant the match at Tokyo Stadium finished 2-1 in the Matildas’ favour, but the Australians would have been out of sight long before that if it weren’t for goalkeeper Erin Nayler, finishing with eight shots on target to the Kiwis’ three.
Nayler wasn’t at her best as they conceded two goals in the space of 13 first-half minutes, playing a poor pass that allowed Australia to launch the counter-press that led to their opener.
But it was ultimately her saves – and a few crucial interventions from senior centre back Abby Erceg – that stopped the margin from growing in the second half, where the Ferns nevertheless turned in a much improved display from the one they produced in the first 45 minutes.
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Tameka Yallop, the wife of Ferns centurion Kirsty Yallop, opened the scoring after an initial 20-minute spell where Australia were immediately on the front foot, looking to extend their 30-match unbeaten run in the trans-Tasman rivalry that dates back to 1994.
The goal came after the Ferns won a free kick on the halfway line following a period of relentless pressure, but chose to go backwards instead of making the most of a rare opportunity to play forwards.
Left centre back Anna Green sent the ball back to Nayler, who tried to return it when a pass really wasn’t on, with Kyah Simon bearing down on her team-mate.
Simon’s cross after winning the ball was cleared by right centre back Meikayla Moore into space, only for Yallop to beat midfielder Katie Bowen to it.
She then continued her run as her marker switched off, while playing a one-two with Sam Kerr, before finishing fiercely past Nayler, who got a hand to the shot but couldn’t keep it out.
Kerr then doubled the Matildas’ lead 12 minutes later, beating Moore to the ball at the near post following a Stephanie Catley corner.
Her header was close enough to Nayler to give her a chance, but she could only force the ball up onto the crossbar, and it crossed the line from there.
That left the Ferns needing to score twice to take something from the match, which looked a hard ask when they went into the halftime break without a single shot to show for what was a fairly lacklustre effort.
There was the odd moment where they were able to put pressure on Australia, but they were limited in attack, trying to play off Hannah Wilkinson up front with little success.
They finally registered their first shot a few minutes into the second half, when CJ Bott had an attempt from way out that was easily gathered by Lydia Williams in the Australian goal.
As the Matildas threatened down the other end, the Ferns were gifted a chance to pull a goal back when a bit of indecision from Williams allowed Wilkinson to poach the ball, but as she ended up on the byline, she had to cross instead of taking a shot, and a defender was able to get in the way and head clear.
Australia found plenty of joy in behind the Ferns’ wingbacks in the first half, but once coach Tom Sermanni changed to a back four midway through the second half, it was more of an even contest.
His most telling change was one he might have regretted not making sooner – the introduction of Rennie, a member of the bronze-medal winning team from the 2018 Fifa Under-17 World Cup.
She was in the right place at the right time as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, heading goalwards from the middle of the six-yard box after a cross from Wilkinson on the left was met by Ria Percival at the back post, and while it didn’t change the result, it was a moment to savour for the 20-year-old North Canterbury product.
Her goal left the Ferns with 90 seconds or so to find an equaliser, but when they didn’t, the match that presented their best chance for a result at these Olympics was done and dusted.
The Matildas had looked to be the weakest of their three opponents, and they next face the United States, the reigning world champions, who were stunned by Sweden in their opening match earlier on Wednesday.
The 3-0 loss the Americans suffered was their first in 45 matches stretching back to early 2019, and they will be eager to bounce back against the Ferns, who have only beaten them once, in 1987, and drawn with them once, in 2013, while losing the other 16 times.
That match kicks off at 11.30pm [NZ time] on Saturday.Tokyo Olympics – women’s football tournament, group G
Australia 2 (Tameka Yallop 20’, Sam Kerr 33’) Football Ferns 1 (Gabi Rennie 90’+1)
Points: Sweden 3, Australia 3, Football Ferns 0, United States 0