Alfeld a stand out for Young Football Ferns
NICOLA ABERCROMBIE IN BAKU
A stand-out performance from goalkeeper Lily Alfeld was not enough to save New Zealand in their opening match of the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Playing against a quality Mexico side, the Young Football Ferns went down 1-0 in front of a crowd of around 2000 - including a handful of Kiwis - in the Azerbaijan capital.
Despite the results, both coaches singled out 17-year-old Christchurch keeper Alfeld as one of the top performers of the day.
"I think Lily made same really important saves to keep the game 1-0 and give us a chance of getting something out of it right until the end, because they did have some good chances of putting the game away," New Zealand coach Paul Temple said.
His Mexican counterpart Christopher Cuellar also heaped praise on the young Kiwi, crediting her with keeping the Kiwis in the game.
Only three players in the New Zealand side had previous experience at a World Cup - stand-in captain Hannah Carlsen, Alfeld and Megan Lee played in the 2010 edition of the tournament - and the nerves showed early.
Temple said the combination of playing at a top event and the exhausting 29 degree heat had had an impact on his side's performance.
"It's their first experience on this stage so it's very different to what they are used to.
"I think the heat can really sap your energy and I think that happened a bit today.
"There was obviously a lot of nerves and adrenalin and before the game started I think they had probably spent a lot of their energy. That sort of pays in the second half and it's pretty hard to keep running forward when you've got nothing left in the tank."
The Young Ferns were forced to play hard, and at times desperate, defence for much of the game and Temple said their attack would have to improve when they face Japan on Thursday (NZT).
Their cause was not helped by the loss of captain CJ Bott before the game to injury and fellow centre back Lee at a crucial stage in the second half.
Temple said he does not expect Bott to be fit for the game against Japan but he is hopeful she will be available for the final group match against Brazil.
Lee had to be helped from the field but Temple said at this stage it seemed to be a case of bad cramp and she should be available on Thursday.
Despite the struggles, the Kiwi coach said there were still plenty of positives to be taken from the loss.
"We tried to move the ball through the midfield and for the most part up until the opposition penalty area I thought we did well.
"We'll definitely take some heart from the fact that we were brave enough to get on the ball and try some things."
Alfeld was also upbeat, despite the daunting task the Kiwis now face to qualify for the quarter-finals.
"We've tried to focus on playing our brand of football and dealing with what comes to us when it does. Their [Japan and Brazil] finishers are amazing though and they have a lot of skill and class, but we've been training as hard as we can and facing shots from men so we've definitely been pushing our limits."
The Young Football Ferns will play Japan early Thursday morning (NZT) and will be heavy underdogs after they beat Brazil 5-0 in their opening match.
- © Fairfax NZ News