New Zealand have made a winning start to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, defeating Switzerland 2-1 in their Group A opener in Miyagi, Japan last night.
The Junior Football Ferns can now guarantee a place in the quarterfinals of the 16 nation tournament with a win in either of their remaining two pool games against the hosts or Mexico although one more point may be enough to progress.
New Zealand took a deserved lead when Evie Millynn was on hand in the 39th minute to apply the finishing touch to Olivia Chance's cut back after the winger had turned her marker inside out.
Captain Rosie White doubled the lead seven minutes after halftime when she wriggled past two would-be defenders before picking out an unguarded back post from distance to punish the Swiss goalkeeper for getting her angles wrong. Her stunning solo effort gave the striker the distinction of scoring in three consecutive FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups.
A fast finishing Switzerland team, who blew two first half chances to score, drew a goal back through substitute Eseosa Aigbogun in the first minute of injury time but it was too little too late for the Europeans as the Junior Football Ferns gave coach Aaron McFarland a memorable present for his 40th birthday.
"It's a pretty special way to celebrate," said McFarland.
"Winning is the only way to start if we want to progress out of the group and that's the goal this group have set.
"We always targeted this game so we're delighted with the win but it's a good opportunity to be picky on the performance because it wasn't the best we had to offer by a long way.
New Zealand's greater international experience - the squad collectively has over 60 matches at previous FIFA events between them - told especially during a more composed start with defender Bridgette Armstrong looking commanding in her third U-20 Women's World Cup and forcing a goal line save in just the third minute.
McFarland paid tribute to his most experienced player, captain Rosie White, after what proved to be a match winning goal.
"That's where the experience factor comes in. She's had so many hours on the international stage now and to see that opportunity unfolding under so much defensive pressure is just a bit of X factor. I'm glad for her as the skipper in her final U-20 World Cup to win it for us."
New Zealand's next game is on Wednesday night against Japan, who were facing Mexico in the opening day's late kick-off in Miyagi. The hosts are among the favourites to win the tournament but McFarland said the opening victory would have them heading into the clash with confidence and freedom.
"I'm looking forward to watching Japan play Mexico tonight and seeing how much support there is. They played Canada a few days ago in a warm up and there were 10,000 people here so to have put ourselves in a position where a result against Japan on Wednesday could put us through to the next stage is an amazing start."
New Zealand 2 (Evie Millynn 39', Rosie White 52')
Switzerland 1 (Eseosa Aigbogun 90 1')