19 Nov 2018

Football Ferns off to a flying start

6:41 pm on 19 November 2018

The Football Ferns have got off to a flying start under new coach Tom Sermanni at the OFC Women's Nations Cup in New Caledonia.

Football Ferns' Katie Bowen in action

Football Ferns' Katie Bowen in action Photo: © Copyright Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

The World No 20 came into the tournament as strong favourites and underlined their title credentials with a dominant display, defeating Tonga 11-0 in the hot conditions at Stade Numa-Daly Magenta in Nouméa.

The defending champions were rampant in their first game under Sermanni with four players - Rosie White, Annalie Longo, Betsy Hassett and Sarah Gregorius - all scoring doubles in the first half to earn an 8-0 lead at the break.

After the blistering start, Sermanni made three changes at half-time, captain Ali Riley came off for Sarah Morton, Longo made way Katie Rood and White was substituted for debutant Grace Jale.

The Ferns picked up where they left off soon after half-time when Gregorius completed her hat-trick in the 51st minute with a composed finish. With her hat-trick, the 31-year-old from Wellington moved into third on the all-time goal-scorers for the Football Ferns. Her 28 goals in 86 A internationals sees her behind injured team-mate Amber Hearn (54) and Wendy Sharpe (34).

Experienced defender Ria Percival, who missed the Japan international in June with an ankle injury, marked her return to the national side with a smart goal from a set-piece in the 67th minute.

Tonga defended resolutely in the second half, but the Ferns added an 11th goal when Tongan keeper Carollyne Fotu made a mistake at the back in the 88th minute. Jale was the quickest to react and capped her first A international with a goal.

The final score of 11-0 was still some way off the biggest winning margin in Football Ferns history. The New Zealand Women's team of 1998 defeated Samoa 21-0 in Auckland to claim that record. It was also short of the biggest win over Tonga - the Football Ferns of 2014 defeated Tonga 16-0 in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea on their way to qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada.

The Football Ferns will take on the Cook Islands on Thursday and Fiji on Monday to complete their Group B games, and this performance has confirmed their favouritism to top the group. Meanwhile in Group A, Papua New Guinea defeated Samoa 5-0 and hosts New Caledonia beat Tahiti 4-2 to begin the tournament.

The winner of the OFC Women's Nations Cup will qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women;s World Cup in France and also the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.