OPINION: They've made the crucial breakthrough, now the Football Ferns need to beat top-tier teams consistently to increase their chances of success at the 2015 World Cup and the Rio Olympics.
The New Zealand national women's team had been threatening to claim a big scalp for some time and they delivered yesterday, becoming the first New Zealand football team to beat Brazil with a stunning 1-0 win at the Valais Cup in Switzerland.
It was the first time the 19th-ranked Ferns have beaten a top-10 side - Brazil are ranked fourth in the world - and is undoubtedly the biggest scalp yet for any New Zealand team.
Having been in Wuhan, China, six years ago when New Zealand were utterly embarrassed 5-0 by Brazil in a World Cup match, it's hard to describe just how far they have come. The signs were there in Cardiff at last year's Olympics, when they pushed the Brazilians in a 1-0 loss, but they finally broke through yesterday and the win was no fluke.
They dominated large parts of the match, passed well and held possession in a composed manner, with Brazil rarely threatening. The crucial difference was that New Zealand created chances of their own, something they have struggled with against the top teams.
They also have belief, something coach Tony Readings and his predecessor, John Herdman, have worked hard to develop.
"The difference now is that the team expects to win these games," Readings explained yesterday from Chatel-St-Denis, after Amber Hearn's 66th minute header secured the spoils.
"In the past we've wanted to win but not had that belief. We genuinely believe we can beat anyone now and we relish these sorts of games. Beating teams like this increases our chances of success on the big stages."
The tall figure of Hearn, 28, missed a penalty in the 21st minute; she struck the ball to Thais Picarte's right but the Brazilian goalkeeper did well to make the save.
However, the former Arsenal striker, who currently plies her trade for USV Jena in the German Bundesliga, atoned for the penalty miss just after the hour-mark. From a corner, Hearn rose high and nodded the ball into the net after a misjudgement from the previously steady Picarte.
Former multiple world player of the year Marta was missing from the Brazilian lineup but otherwise it was a strong team.
New Zealand will now play China in the Valais Cup final on Thursday. China beat Mexico 1-0 in the early match.
- Fairfax Media
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