Despite a well-drilled display against the European champions, a stoppage-time goal meant a frustrating defeat to start the World Cup for Ali Riley’s New Zealand.
A close-range header by Jill Roord on 92 minutes denied Riley and New Zealand what would have been a hard-earned point against the Netherlands, one of the contenders to win the World Cup, as their campaign began in familiar fashion in Le Havre.The courageous underdogs, who had lost 1-0 to the same opponents in their opening game four years ago, produced a disciplined performance with Riley at its centre and even had three good chances to steal a victory before a momentary lapse ended in Dutch delight.Blues defender Riley led out the Football Ferns and played the full 90 minutes for their 20th straight World Cup and Olympic Games match dating back to 2008. Stationed at left-back in a counter-attacking 4-5-1 formation, her command of the flank allowed Everton midfielder Olivia Chance to venture down the left-hand side and create some of their best openings on the break.Riley and the rest of the back four had their hands full against largely the same attacking line-up who drove the Dutch to the Euro 2017 title on home soil, including former FIFA Player of the Year Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema, this season’s WSL top scorer with Arsenal.However, the Oceanian champions defended resolutely and were rarely unlocked until the closing stages. Riley appeared to have the better of Lyon winger Shanice van der Sanden, while they pressed well, often forcing the favourites all the way back to their goal.Yet the Netherlands, notorious for their late winners at major tournaments, came close to breaking the deadlock on a couple of occasions towards the end of the second half before Roord, scoring her third international goal from the bench, prised away the precious point. Riley could not reach a cross at the back post and new Arsenal signing Roord was able to turn in a header back across goal.
The New Zealanders are seeking their first World Cup win in their fifth appearance at the tournament, but after almost taking a draw from arguably their toughest fixture in Group E, Riley’s side will still have hopes of securing their debut appearance in the knockout rounds.Their next game is in Grenoble against Canada on Saturday, another repeat of the previous World Cup but this time on neutral territory. Meanwhile, their potential last-16 place is likely to go down to their final group fixture against Cameroon in Montpellier next Thursday.