Sometimes a smile can tell the whole story. As the final whistle blew, and New Zealand finally had a win at a major competition, the smiles told the story. After 14 straight games without a victory over more than two decades, all the hard work behind the scenes had finally paid off. Granted, it was a 3-1 victory over Cameroon that they rightfully expected to have, but as much as we – and I’m as guilty as anyone – want to talk about off-the-ball and off-the-field incidents, sometimes something as simple as a smile is all you need to see, no matter what happens to New Zealand against the United States on Friday.
1) New Zealand didn’t make it easy on themselves
Tony Readings was trying to stay cool, but you could see the tension rising as the first half basically came and went and not only was New Zealand not scoring any goals, they were having trouble creating chances. Even against Cameroon it was hard for them to keep enough possession to break them down. Now they were the better side, don’t get me wrong, but when Katie Hoyle unleashed a shot from distance in the 34th minute and it came back off the post, he might have been thinking it was one of those days. They hadn’t scored a goal in the tournament to that point, remember. Soon after, Adrienne Iven was on a semi-breakaway and Readings’ heart was in his mouth, surely. But just before halftime, Rebecca Smith somehow headed home a corner kick. A couple of minutes after the half, Cameroon got as ugly an own goal as you’ll see, and everyone could breathe. Again, they deserved it, but they didn’t make it easy.
2) Rosie White, ladies and gentlemen
With Hannah Wilkinson suspended, Rosie White got her chance to come off the bench, and the UCLA sophomore made the most of it, playing a part in both the second and third goals for the Ferns. Not bad for someone who had only one goal and one assist in 20 games for the Bruins last fall (some girl named Leroux scored 16 goals in 21 games). Could this be a spark to give White some time on Friday against the U.S. Fellow PAC-12er Betsy Hassett (Cal) has also impressed at the Olympics.
3) Cameroon can leave with its head high
They may have gotten outscored 11-1 in their first major international tournament (they probably haven’t played in too many minor ones either), but just as the smiles for New Zealand at the final whistle were telling, so were the ones when Cameroon finally got a consolation tally in the 75th minute. Gabrielle Onguene got the goal, and there was no ridiculous celebration, they knew they were still down 3-1 and were about to go out, but it was still a monumental accomplishment nonetheless. I liked the organization I saw Ngachu Enow’s team, and unlike Colombia, I think there might be a brighter future for a country like Cameroon, they seem to be getting support from their federation, even Roger Milla followed them to Britain. If they don’t break through by the next round of big tournaments, by Japan 2019, I think you might be talking about an African team making it to the quarterfinals. But we’ll see.
New Zealand only outshot Cameroon 11-10, although in shots on goal it was 6-2. Neither African team got a red card in the tournament (in fact, there were no straight reds in the entire group stages, and only North Korea got a player sent off).