Canada, New Zealand split points in weather-delayed match
Canada and New Zealand huffed and puffed through a weather-delayed match that ended in goalless draw and left many questions open in Group A.
With the Ferns missing a penalty kick and Canada unable to really control the flow of the match, much of the game was played in the middle of the field, with little skill on display. On the evidence, Canada, who are desperate as hosts to make a deep run here, are going to have to find a way to radically improve their play though they top the group with four points. The fact is they were the poorer team for long stretches of the game and were lucky not to lose.
"New Zealand were tough as we expected, they were physical and good with the set-plays," Canada coach John Herdman told FIFA's official website after the match. "I thought we were the better team but we need to hit the back of the net. We defended resolutely. That was a dominant second half for long periods, and we just needed to capitalize. All-in-all another solid performance from Canada, we just need to find the net and give the fans something to cheer."
Thursday's game in Edmonton got off to a rocky start as the referees picked up the ball after only five minutes due to lightning in the area. The game was delayed for half an hour as a storm moved through, and after the break, both teams looked sluggish as they tried to get back into rhythm.
It was New Zealand who made the more aggressive moves at first, with Amber Hearn forcing Erin McLeod into a fine stop over her own bar and the big Abby Erceg causing havoc on corner kicks. But Canada found their footing and New Zealand keeper Erin Nayler had a couple big moments as well, first stopping a header from Jonelle Filigno in the 20th minute, then standing up Christine Sinclair on a clean breakway.
Then, disaster struck, Allysha Chapman took out Hannah Wilkinson in the 33rd minute with a tackle more often found in the CFL, sending Hearn to the spot. But Hearn, with McLeod going the wrong way, sent her attempt off the crossbar, and we remained deadlocked. Oddly, Lauren Sesselmann was initially carded for the foul as the referee realized her mistake only after the interval.
In the final minute of the half, Filigno slipped Melissa Tancredi through, and with Nayler wrong-footed, the ball was in the back of the net. However, in one of the rare excellent refereeing decisions of this tournament so far, the lineswoman put her flag up, and she was dead-on. Tancredi was offside when she collected the ball and we went into the break 0-0.
It was more of the same after the break. Sinclair latched on to a loose ball and volleyed a shot in that Nayler palmed on to her own crossbar and away; at the other end, Hearn, with Desiree Scott draped all over her, tried and failed to hook the ball in at the far post. But these were isolated incidents in a game that saw a lot of turnovers and a lot of nerves. McLeod was forced to make a couple smart punches as the yips grew amongst the Canadian backline; Nayler saw Sophie Schmidt hit her bar with a flukey looper.
As the game grew stretched, the chances become more frantic. Tancredi had a wide-open net to shoot at when she was found all alone wide left -- instead, she shot it tamely to Nayler. Sinclair nearly found the far post with Nayler going the wrong way, but instead saw her shot go agonizingly wide. McLeod was forced to take the ball off Rosie White's laces in the final minute. But you rarely got a sense either team could actually finish.
"We are disappointed not to come away with all three points again," Tony Readings, New Zealand coach told FIFA after the goalless draw. "We feel we should have at least four points by now. We created many chances and we have struggled to score in these past two games, but one day we will beat someone three, four, five-nil. We have been very good defensively, now it is just a matter of working on things at the other end of the pitch. This group is very tight. We know China so well, and it is always going to be tight when we play them."
The final day of group play will have significant implications for the teams in Group A as all four teams remain alive. China beat Holland in Thursday's early match, and will face New Zealand on the final day. The Netherlands, which beat the Ferns in their opener, now must get a result against the hosts. The four best third-place finishers will advance to the Round of 16.