New Zealand's Football Ferns down China 3-1
New Zealand's Football Ferns have comfortably beaten China 3-1 in Auckland this afternoon.
Tony Readings' side fully deserved the win over the world's 18th best women's team - ranked five places ahead of New Zealand - with Hayley Moorwood, Sarah Gregorius and Amber Hearn getting the goals.
Claiming the first of two important pre-Olympic matches against the Chinese, the confidence-boosting win was built on a commanding first-half.
The Ferns took the lead in the 10th minute when an Emma Kete cross was clearly handballed by the Chinese defence. Referee Steven Black failed to call the foul, but the ball ricocheted to Moorwood who tucked home with only goalkeeper Wang Fei to beat.
Not content to sit on the lead, New Zealand continued to push forward and in the 29th minute Gregorius doubled the advantage.
Despite a couple of chances China failed to clear a Kiwi corner and a looping ball fell kindly to the Ferns striker, who finished deftly with the outside of her right boot.
After just half an hour and New Zealand clearly in control, Chinese manager Hao Wei was forced into making a tactical substitution, his players struggling to cope with the Ferns.
Captain Rebecca Smith was substituted at half-time, making way for debutant Rebecca Stott – allowing Readings to experiment with his line-up and give crucial experience before selecting his squad for the London Games.
China hit the restart with much more intent, wrestling the midfield advantage away from the hosts.
But the introduction of top American college student Betsy Hassett and Anna Green who plays professionally in Germany, for Moorwood and Ria Percival respectively, injected a more pressing style from the Ferns.
A pedestrian second half was sparked into life in the 70th minute when Black awarded China a touchline freekick just over 20 metres out.
Zhang Rui floated in an excellent cross and Xu Yanlu rose to head powerfully past Jenny Bindon.
The Ferns almost immediately restored the two-goal cushion though, with Kete a matter of centimetres from recording a brilliant counter-attack lob.
Chasing down a high through-ball on the edge of the box, Fei rushed out in a mis-judged attempt to intercept Kete, who's cutely elevated shot bounced onto the post and was cleared to safety.
Five minutes later New Zealand produced another brilliant effort – and this time, were rewarded.
Some good work by Hassett down the right flank allowed a shot which was cleared to the edge of the box and Amber Hearn lashed a low strike tight to the right post which left Fei with no chance.
Chinese woodwork thwarted New Zealand again seven minutes from time, with Hearn unable to steer an acute shot from eight metres.
The second match between the sides – which is also the Ferns' last pre-Olympic game in New Zealand – is at North Harbour Stadium on Wednesday night. Kick-off is at 7.30pm.