Football Ferns coach Tony Readings admits it will be challenging to pick up his "devastated" players for their defining match at the Olympics, against Cameroon on Wednesday (NZ time).
New Zealand still have a chance of achieving their minimum target - reaching the quarterfinals - but they need to beat Cameroon, preferably by a handsome margin, and hope other results go their way. That would see them qualify as one of the two best third-placed sides from the 12-team competition.
But the nature of their 1-0 loss to world No 5 Brazil at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium yesterday, when they conceded from a goalkeeping error with four minutes remaining, has cut deep.
The players were crestfallen at the final whistle, almost in shock that they had been stripped of a history-making result and the chance to control their own destiny.
“It's not just the 90 minutes of football; that game represented four years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears off the pitch, so it's devastating. We can't hide from that," Readings said. "Yes, it will be a challenge to pick them up, but we've got unfinished business. We know we deserve to get points from this tournament, so we'll be going all out and hopefully other teams can do us favours.
"The team rallies around in adversity," he said. "We wanted to go into the final round with qualification in our own hands, but we've let that slip. We can't fault the performance, but the results are not what we're after."
Cristiane's looping 86th-minute shot could not be kept out of the net despite a desperate attempt by defender Abby Erceg.
Goalkeeper Jenny Bindon, who had had a good match till that moment, came out to punch a free kick, couldn't get there, and the ball ended up at Cristiane's foot, the powerful striker perfectly weighting her lob so that it was unstoppable.
Otherwise, it was an excellent performance from the 23rd-ranked Kiwis. They didn't create many opportunities, but they didn't concede many clear-cut ones either, as five-time world player of the year, Marta, and Cristiane were kept quiet.
They'll need all that organisation, plus some flair up front, to bang a few goals past Cameroon, who were 5-0 losers against Brazil and went down 3-0 against the hosts in yesterday's late match. On paper and on form, New Zealand should win, but they have to win emphatically, and Readings' research suggests Cameroon can be unpredictable. “We still have hopes of progressing, so maybe we'll need to win by a couple of goals or more.
"If that's the case, we'll have to adjust our game plan," Readings said. "I think we're going to need a good goal difference, unless someone gets a hammering in the last game. We'll have to have an attacking focus.”
- © Fairfax NZ News