New Zealand overcame its close opening losses against Great Britain and Brazil, finally got itself on the board, and won the last spot in the quarterfinals by defeating Cameroon 3-1 in Coventry Stadium. Team captain Rebecca Smith opened the scoring for the Ferns at the close of the first half and made history as New Zealand moved on to the next round for the first time in a major tournament. Smith finished off a corner kick delivered in from Ria Percival, as Cameroon keeper Annette Ngo Ndom searched for the punch amidst traffic in the box.
It didn’t take long in the second half for New Zealand to double its lead, though the second goal did not come from the last New Zealand player who controlled the ball, Rosie White. After White rounded the ball past Ngo Ndom (who had come wildly out of position to challenge), Ysis Sonkeng was directly in the path of White’s attempt to cross the ball back to Sarah Gregorius. Neither of the two remaining Cameroon defenders could do anything to stop the ball from crossing the goal line. Sonkeng could do little but hang her head, though the fault came with Ngo Ndom’s decision to leave the goal.
Finally, in the 62nd minute, Gregorius did find herself on the receiving end of a perfect cross from Rosie White, and finished it off with a header after sneaking in past her defender.
Cameroon earned its only goal of the tournament with 15 minutes left in the match off a corner kick. The cross in was headed toward goal by Henriette Akaba, then redirected by Gabrielle Onguene right past New Zealand’s Ria Percival at the post. Jenny Bindon might have had a chance at it, but Onguene was unmarked and in the perfect position to finish the goal for Cameroon.
New Zealand nearly scored a fourth goal in the 77th minute from a free kick, which Ngo Ndom lost during a challenge from Amber Hearn, who then turned and put it into the back of the unguarded net. Hearn celebrated, but the ref signalled for a free kick from the site of contact and play resumed.
There was plenty of celebrating to enjoy for New Zealand after the final whistle of the game, with star defender Ali Riley in tears and the team then performing a haka before leaving the field.
While the Indomitable Lionesses were regarded as Cameroon’s best chance for a medal at the London Games and their first Olympic tournament came to a close in the group stages, they showed great promise for the future of women’s soccer in Africa.
New Zealand moves on to face the United States on Friday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. These two teams last saw each other in February in a chilly friendly in Dallas. The USWNT won the game off two late goals from Alex Morgan (the first in the 88th minute, the second in the closing seconds of stoppage time) for a final score of 2-1.
The two teams know each other well, and while it might seem unevenly matched on paper, New Zealand has come close to beating the US before. With a huge emotional boost from today’s win, New Zealand could pull off one of the most massive upsets in women’s soccer if they are on form and get a stellar game from Riley, Gregorius, Hearn, and the rest of the Ferns.
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