Lee 'Player of the Match' as New Zealand Advances
BATON ROUGE – LSU’s All-SEC left back Megan Lee sealed the victory for New Zealand by scoring the second goal of the game and turned in a “Player of the Match” performance to lead the Junior Football Ferns to a historic 3-0 victory over Costa Rica on Wednesday afternoon while advancing to the quarterfinals at the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014.
New Zealand kicked off its final group match against Costa Rica in Toronto, Quebec, trailing France and Paraguay in third place in Group D and needing a victory to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
And the Junior Football Ferns delivered in a big way as they stormed to a 3-0 victory to become the first age group team in the history of New Zealand Football to advance to the knockout rounds of a FIFA tournament. New Zealand secured second place in Group D with six points to advance, while France topped the table with nine points following its 3-0 win over Paraguay on Wednesday night.
After Steph Skilton had given New Zealand a 1-0 lead with a flicked header into the back of the net off a free kick from near midfield in the 24th minute, Lee came within inches of pushing the lead to 2-0 later in the first half when she curled a corner kick over the outstretched arms of Costa Rican goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez and off the crossbar.
Lee did strike with her first career World Cup goal in the 69th minute after a goal kick by LSU’s Class of 2014 goalkeeper recruit Lily Alfeld was played through the midfield and found Lee’s feet on a breakaway behind the Costa Rica back line. Lee raced into the box, held off Costa Rican defender Noelle Sanz and chipped the ball over Bermudez to give the Junior Ferns a deserved 2-0 lead.
Tayla O’Brien put an exclamation point onto the end of New Zealand’s victory when she headed home a corner kick in the fourth minute of stoppage time to send the Junior Football Ferns into the quarterfinals.
While appearing in her third World Cup for New Zealand as an experienced international left back, Lee found the scoresheet for the first time on the World Cup stage with her second-half strike and turned in a brilliant defensive effort to help preserve the shutout and earn “Player of the Match” honors. She has also twice appeared with the Young Football Ferns at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2010 and 2012.
“I’m so pleased with the players. They took on the responsibility of keeping a clean sheet and taking a battling approach,” said New Zealand’s head coach Aaron McFarland of his team’s victory. “They’re over the moon and that exhilaration of winning will last for a good few hours. We set a goal of the semifinals, and that will keep the players feet on the ground and help keep us focused.”
A member of LSU’s heralded recruiting Class of 2014, Alfeld was instrumental in keeping Costa Rica off the scoreboard with two class saves late in the second half with New Zealand trying to preserve its advantage.
Alfeld denied Costa Rica substitute Michelle Montero’s header from a corner kick in the 79th minute with a diving save to her left as she pushed the ball out for another corner kick that she would easily claim in the box. She then gloved Melissa Herrera’s half volley from near the top of the box after the ball was played over the New Zealand back line for a breakaway.
Alfeld kept her second clean sheet of this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup after New Zealand opened the tournament with a decisive 2-0 victory over Paraguay in its first group game on Aug. 6.
The victory sets up a quarterfinal match against Group C winners Nigeria on Sunday with kickoff slated for 4 p.m. CT at Moncton Stadium in Moncton, New Brunswick. LSU Soccer fans in the United States can check out Lee and Alfeld in action as the match will feature live on ESPN3.com and on the Watch ESPN app on all computers, smartphones and tablets.
The LSU Soccer program led all of NCAA women’s soccer with four participants at this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup at the start of the tournament, and all four players remain as the event heads to the quarters as All-SEC midfielder Emma Fletcher and Class of 2014 defender recruit Jordane Carvery will look to lead Canada past two-time champion Germany in their quarterfinal match on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT in Edmonton.