Up against the best

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:00 02/04/2014
geena cross
WORLD CLASS: Nelson's young Football Fern Geena Cross says competing against Spain was 'the most amazing experience'.

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Spanish football is synonymous with the world's best. So, when Nelson's Geena Gross rates her Fifa World Cup game against Spain, you know it was a quality performance.

Geena was part of a successful campaign for the Young Football Ferns as they ended a six-match World Cup losing streak. This was broken in their opening match of the tournament in Costa Rica, when they recorded a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.

Exiting after the group stage, the under-17 side can hold their heads high as the only teams they lost to - Japan and Spain - both made the semifinals. On her return, Geena told the Nelson Mail about the thrill of competing against the world's best.

"It was the most amazing experience ever," said the Nelson College for Girls student. "Playing on the world stage, representing your country and playing the game that you love, at the highest level in the world, is definitely something that will never sink in."

The Young Football Ferns dropped all three matches at the previous two tournaments, held every two years, previously in Azerbaijan and Trinidad and Tobago. New Zealand's first point at the tournament since a 3-1 win over Columbia in Wellington in 2008 in the inaugural event, was the game Geena rated as the most complete.

"Our best game would have been against Paraguay. The team did not give up, and we were so physical that we matched up with Paraguay and came out with one point."

Having opened the tournament with a satisfying draw the Young Football Ferns met a Spanish side looking to rebound quickly from a 2-0 defeat to Japan in their opening match.

Spanish flair and invention proved too much for the Kiwis as they fell to a 3-0 defeat to the Europeans.

Spain quickly gained the ascendancy, scoring two first-half goals. The European side dominated possession during the remainder of the game and went up a gear in the second spell. This forced the New Zealand defenders to lift their game and this happened when Geena took the pitch.

"My favourite moment on the pitch would have been coming on in the match against Spain, which I personally think was one of my better matches.

"Spain was a more possession-based team. They just kept the ball along the back line until they could see the chance to attack forward or drag a striker in to create gaps for them to play in. They were very good individually, tactically and technically."

Always aware of the opposition, Geena said that she picked up a lot by studying her opposite's movements.

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"They encourage their fullbacks and wings to cut inside when on the ball, which is the hardest to defend. They are a very strong team and play the same every match. Spain definitely deserved their spot in the semifinals."

The Football Ferns World Cup ended after a 3-0 loss to Japan in their final Group C match in San Jose.

Before the match, Japan had scored 12 goals in their two group games, including a 10-0 win over Paraguay. Spain had already secured second place, and a spot in the next phase, with a 7-1 win over Paraguay, so the New Zealanders set out to negate the Japanese side's possession rhythm.

Holding a team that are favourites to win the event was also a decent result. While not winning a game, the Ferns were always competitive. Geena said the entire team and women's football in New Zealand had benefited from the experience.

If a young player doesn't return from a world cup inspired, they would need to question why they are playing. Geena said she couldn't wait to be out on the pitch again, with a thing or two she can share to help the local Nelson leagues.

"I learnt so much from the three weeks I was away," said Geena. "Now I can take that back into my own training environment back home, to players who want to develop their play and style."

- Nelson

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