The New Zealand U20 Women, featuring several current secondary school players, have held tournament hosts and powerhouse football nation to a France, a nil-all draw at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup this morning.
In an absorbing encounter played at a high intensity throughout, France dominated possession as expected in front of their boisterous fans but New Zealand had a clear game plan, which they executed perfectly.
“I’m really proud of the performance from the girls, we set them a pretty honest challenge to be better in certain areas from the first game and they certainly delivered on that today,” coach Gareth Turnbull said.
“To be able to back up and go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams at this tournament – and have a proper game where both teams had opportunities – is amazing. I was pleased with the application of the tactical stuff but it was more the character, the heart, the aggression and the energy which they had heaps of.”
New Zealand had performed well in their opening match against the Netherlands and very nearly claimed a point on that occasion too, only a late winner denying them in heart-breaking fashion.
Recently crowned world champions in the men’s game, France finished runners-up in the previous FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2016 and also came second in the 2017 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship as defending champions.
Despite being roared on by a vociferous backing at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes though, they struggled to break down a well-organised New Zealand, whose outstanding performance was built on a heroic defensive effort.
But, despite that do-or-die pressure, Turnbull says the feeling in the camp was more relaxed than in that
In a first half of few opportunities, France hardly had a sight of goal while Claudia Bunge had a half chance on the turn early on and captain Malia Steinmetz tried her luck with a speculative effort from distance just before the break.
Clear goal-scoring opportunities continued to be at a premium in the second period, Anna Leat being called into action on only a few occasions to make comfortable saves. New Zealand’s first shot on target in the half arrived just before the hour when Hannah Blake laid off a free kick for Grace Jale to drill low but straight at goalkeeper Mylene Chavas.
France should have taken the lead moments later when Emelyne Laurent somehow blazed over the bar with the goal at her mercy and the hosts were made to pay as New Zealand safely negotiated a late spell of pressure to record the first scoreless draw of the tournament.
New Zealand have now given themselves a chance to progress with a win over Ghana but Turnbull is keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground.
“It’s a little bit out of our hands so we’ll just focus on what we can control,” he said.
To advance, they must now beat Ghana – who are pointless after two matches and have already been eliminated – in their final Group A match on Monday and hope the Netherlands can do them a favour by beating France
New Zealand 0
New Zealand: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Sarah Morton, 4. Elizabeth Anton, 7. Hannah Blake, 8. Malia Steinmetz (c) (12. Rose Morton 85’), 9. Samantha Tawharu (19. Maggie Jenkins 90’ +3’), 10. Grace Jale, 11. Jacqui Hand, 13. Paige Satchell (16. Gabi Rennie 88’) 14. Claudia Bunge, 18. Aneka Mittendorff
Cautions: Paige Satchell 61’, Malia Steinmetz 76’
Substitutes not used: 3. Rebecca Lake, 5. Michaela Foster, 6. Nicole Mettam, 15. Tianna Hill, 17. Dayna Stevens, 20. Nadia Olla (GK), 21. Una Foyle (GK)
Coach: Gareth Turnbull
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand