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Young Ferns Finish With Five-Goal Flourish
Story by Jeremy Ruane

New Zealand's Young Ferns wrapped up their FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup campaign on an emphatic winning note at the Prince Mohammed International Stadium in Al Zarqa on 7 October, crushing host nation Jordan 5-0 in front of 4,493 fans to score the country's biggest ever victory at a FIFA Finals tournament.

Hannah Blake claimed the Player of the Match award with a hat-trick, after setting up the first goal of the match for Sammi Tawharu just five minutes into the contest. Emma Main sent the Lotto Northern Premier Women's League's Young Player of the Year scampering down the left, and her pinpoint low cross allowed Tawharu to pick her spot from six yards out.

Six minutes later, captain Michaela Foster flighted a corner to the far post which was an invitation to score, only for Rebecca Lake to inexplicably head it back across goal, spurning the chance to double the Young Ferns' advantage in the process.

A further six minutes elapsed before Gareth Turnbull's charges engineered their third opening of what was a somewhat disjointed first half, made so in part by the persistent - and often unnecessary - whistling of Togo referee Aissata Amegee, whose assessors would do well to educate her on the benefits of playing advantage, a facet of play this game was denied by her frequent interventions.

On this occasion, the referee blew for what she deemed to be a foul on goalkeeper Rand Albustanji by Malia Steinmetz, after she had surged into the penalty area on receipt of Grace Jale's through ball. Replays suggested, however, that the 'keeper had fouled the charging midfielder, and the Young Ferns should have had a penalty.

Half-way through the first half, Jordan fired their first shot in anger, a tame effort from Yasmeen Zabian which Nadia Olla - one of two players making their first appearance at Jordan 2017 - saved at the feet of Sarah Abu-Sabbah, a striker of the niggly kind who have the other Young Ferns' tournament debutant, Amber Phillips, no peace whatsoever throughout proceedings.

Seconds later, Jordan threatened again, Rouzbahan Fraij threading a through ball for Tasneem Abu-Rob to chase. The hijab-wearing midfielder was hotly pursued by Foster, who recovered the danger well, and succeeded in diverting her opponent's shot to safety.

Olla didn't help New Zealand's cause in the 24th minute, when well out of her area. A pass intended for Foster was directed straight to Fraij, who held off the challenge of the Young Ferns' captain before letting fly. Olla spared her blushes by saving the shot, but when the next break in play came, coach Turnbull took the opportunity to address the error of judgement with his goalkeeper, and steer her in the right direction.

Which is where New Zealand soon found themselves heading. After Blake had been foiled on the edge of the area by captain Luna Sahloul's timely tackle, a teasing cross from Claudia Bunge completely deceived Albustanji and nearly went in by the far post in the 26th minute.

Two minutes later, the ball did go in, and this time there was no escape for the goalkeeper, whose poor clearance had led to the opportunity. Foster latched onto the ball, and Tawharu's lob over the defence allowed Blake to race into the box before controlling neatly and finishing deftly past both Albustanji and two defenders - 2-0.

It was a blow from which Jordan never recovered, but there were too many blows of the whistle variety before the game's next opportunity of note was fashioned, four minutes before half-time.

Nicole Mettam, who was harshly booked by the official in the 34th minute, cleverly evaded two opponents before playing the ball forward to Blake. Her dummy allowed the ball to run on into the stride of the overlapping figure of Foster, whose cross to the far post found no-one in a white shirt arriving on cue to turn the ball home.

Two minutes later, Jale - she looked out of sorts throughout this tournament - had a shot blocked, with the rebound quickly falling to Main. She worked a one-two with Tawharu before Blake skied a shot on the turn, moments before she squandered a glorious chance to hand the Young Ferns a three-goal lead on the stroke of half-time.

Phillips picked her out with an early ball forward - too many such passes had lacked such accuracy throughout the half. On this occasion, Blake slipped Tawharu through, and she rounded Albustanji before pulling the ball back from the by-line into the stride of Blake, who somehow squeezed a shot past the two covering defenders, but narrowly past the far post as well.

The second half was barely thirty seconds old when Albustanji had to hurtle off her line to prevent Main from latching onto a through ball from Steinmetz, who had assumed the attacking midfield role which Jale had vacated, having been replaced by Alosi Bloomfield at half-time.

The newcomer was quickly in the thick of the action, spreading play wide to Bunge in the 51st minute. Main came across to support the overlapping fullback, and promptly weaved through three challenges before picking out Blake, who snatched at the chance.

Five minutes later, Tawharu led the latest Young Ferns' rampage, before laying the ball off to Steinmetz, who instantly picked out Main with a pass which allowed her to outpace the defence and let fly. Albustanji parried the effort as the far better placed figure of Blake asked the question of her colleague, who paid the price for her profligacy within sixty seconds.

Cue a FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Finals debut for Maggie Jenkins, who came close to scoring with her first touch within two minutes of coming on. Foster's hanging cross saw the youngster fly in to beat Albustanji in the air, and her header only just flew past the upright.

Blake then set off on a mazy dribble which confused four opponents and befuddled Tawharu, who twice got in her team-mate's path at a critical moment. Thankfully, Blake was able to continue her progress, and eventually curled a twenty-five yarder narrowly past Albustanji's left-hand post.

Jordan's 'keeper should have been facing a penalty in the 67th minute, after Bloomfield copped a boot in the groin from Nour Zoqash after the ball had gone. Incredibly, referee Amegee deemed that the Young Fern was the guilty party in the incident, and awarded a defensive free-kick do me a favour! Quite simply, an awful decision!

Five minutes later, Jeeda Alnaber pumped a free-kick into the New Zealand penalty area which Olla, who had been little occupied for some time now, failed to catch cleanly. Thankfully, no one in a red shirt was on hand to capitalise upon the chance.

The Young Ferns promptly counter-attacked, Tawharu teaming up with substitute Jacqui Hand, who over-hit her cross with Blake lurking in the goalmouth, a position from which she swooped to score her second goal of the game in the 76th minute.

Hand combined with Bunge on the right, with the fullback's cross being headed across goal by Jordan's captain, Sahloul. Sadly for the defender, she directed the ball straight to Blake, who wasted little time in despatching it into the net and making the game safe for New Zealand - 3-0.

In the next thirteen minutes, Albustanji was little troubled by long-range efforts from Bloomfield and Hand, while nuggety fullback Noor Abukishk twice saved the day for Jordan with recovering tackles - the one she executed on Hand in the 88th minute was a certain goal-saver.

Sadly, she couldn't keep the Young Ferns at bay all the time, and the Oceania champions dipped their bread in stoppage time, scoring twice. The first saw Foster and Jenkins combine with Tawharu, who worked a one-two with Blake before steering home precisely past Albustanji.

And 4-0 very swiftly became 5-0, Bunge's cross to the far post allowing Blake to control the ball before completing her hat-trick, in the process becoming the most prolific markswoman in Young Ferns' history, with a tally of seventeen goals to her name to go with her FIFA Player of the Match award.

It was a fine way for the Young Ferns to wrap up their campaign, with just two squad members - Rose Morton and goalkeeper Ashleigh Emery - failing to see any game-time in Jordan, from where the squad will return home in time to join their teams in the National Women's League, which kicks off next Sunday.

Jordan: Albustanji; Abukishk, Sahloul, Ghazi, Zoqash; Zabian (Srouji, 64), Abu-Rob (Isleem, 83), Alnaber; Fraij, Abu-Sabbah, Abu-Ghosh (Al Awwad, 76).

Young Ferns: Olla; Bunge, Lake, Phillips, Foster; Mettam (booked, 34), Jale (Bloomfield, 46), Steinmetz (Hand, 68); Blake, Tawharu, Main (Jenkins, 57).

Referee: Aissata Amegee (Togo).

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