Football Ferns eliminated by USA in quarters
FRED WOODCOCK IN NEWCASTLE
Too big, too polished, and a bit too good.
The United States have ended New Zealand's Olympic women's football campaign with a 2-0 victory in their quarterfinal at St James' Park.
It was a gutsy showing by the 23rd-ranked Football Ferns but they can have few complaints with the result, on the balance of play.
They might well have a complaint with the referee, though, who waved away a late penalty plea when the score was still 1-0.
Substitute striker Rosie White was through on goal and ready to unleash a shot but she was clipped from behind and Jesica di Iorio of Argentina refused to blow her whistle.
Only seven minutes remained and a penalty would've changed the complexion of the match, but moments later Sydney Leroux doubled the Americans' lead and the match was gone.
"It looked like a penalty," Ferns coach Tony Readings said.
"Sometimes these decisions don't go for you when you're New Zealand in these big tournaments, and you need that little bit of luck because they were so hard to break down."
Despite the call, and the fact New Zealand won their fair of possession, they didn't do nearly enough to seriously threaten the US, who took a 27th-minute lead through Abby Wambach.
The two-time defending Olympic champions - they have won three of the four Olympic tournaments since women's football was introduced in 1996 - now progress to meet Britain or Canada in the semifinals.
New Zealand head for Heathrow with a win and three losses from the Olympics. A quarterfinal berth was seen as the minimum so they get a pass mark but nothing more.
"We're happy with the way we played and the fact we left everything on the pitch today, but we've lost to the world No 1 and we're out of the Olympics. We're disappointed that we lost, regardless of who the opposition is."
The Ferns competed well and the look of disappointment on their faces as the final whistle was blown proves they have come a long way in the past five years.
They lost 4-0 to the US at the Beijing Olympics and not so long ago a 2-0 defeat to the powerhouses of women's football would have been lauded by all and sundry. Not so now.
New Zealand got in behind the defence several times but lacked polish in the front third - a common theme from these Olympics - whereas the US always looked dangerous and should have put the game to bed well before the late drama.
Star US strikers Wambach and Alex Morgan both uncharacteristically missed sitters in the first 20 minutes; Morgan sprayed wide with an open goal before her and Wambach also scuffed a relatively straightforward opportunity.
But they atoned when they combined to open the scoring, Morgan providing the silky skills down the left before delivering the perfect cross for Wambach to slide in and tap home.
Morgan missed another sitter early in the second half and was denied in the 73rd minute when she had beaten Bindon to the ball again, only to clatter into the goalkeeper on her way past.
The collision looked nasty and Bindon was down with a head knock, but she continued.
Midfielder Hayley Moorwood, a second-half substitute, became just the third New Zealander - and first woman - to play 100 matches for her country, after All Whites Steve Sumner and Brian Turner.
- © Fairfax NZ News