MBALI NKOSI / AIPS in MONTEVIDEO: New Zealand ran away with a historic 2-1 victory over Canada, flying the Kiwi flag high on national pride, in the third place play-off at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
They rarely looked back after enjoying a blistering start when Grace Wisnewski put them ahead with the fastest goal in the history of the tournament after only 15 seconds in an U-17 women’s world cup.
Canada almost pulled one back immediately only to be denied by a fine save from keeper Anna Leat.
The Young Football Ferns appeared to possess greater synergy among them, pushing the ball seamlessly between Canadian defenders and coordinating well in attack. In the 13th minute they were rewarded again when out of central midfield when Amelia Abbott and Maggie Jenkins set up Wisnewski to catch the defenders napping.
Canada made little attacking impact. In the 21st minute when captain Jordan Huitema pursued a high ball in front of goal but failed to capitalise on her height and Leat saved a close-range header. Then a Huitema free kick was deflected wide by the right leg of Amelia Abbott before attacking midfielder Lara Kazandjian shot into the side net.
Canada had a much better start to the second instalment, being more aggressive after two changes with Ariel Young came on for defender Julianne Vallarand and Jessica De Filippo for Andersen Williams.
When New Zealand responded a header by Wisnewski, searching for her hat-trick, flew wide.
With less than 20 minutes remaining, the North Americans regrouped and pushed New Zealand into their own half. That caused panic and allowed Kazandjian to score, from long range, a contender for goal of the tournament
Only 2-1 down, Canada surged forward like a pack of wolves smelling blood and had two shots on target in less than five minutes.
The Young Football Ferns were not looking so lethal now and had a scare in the 82nd minutes when Huitema – who had shown great leadership throughout the tournament – collided just outside the penalty box with Leat who had to put her body on the line to avoid conceding another goal.
Red attacks poured in from every direction but the Kiwis managed, desperately, to hold on to their lead to the final whistle in front of 1,328 fans.
New Zealand had never had the chance of a celebration of this magnitude before.