Paris Olympics: Football Ferns overwhelm Fiji to reach Oceania qualifying final

Grace Jale celebrates a goal for the Football Ferns.
Grace Jale celebrates a goal for the Football Ferns. Photo credit: Photosport

Grace Jale has scored a hattrick to propel New Zealand past Fiji and into the final of the Oceania qualifying tournament for the Paris Olympics.

Jale's three goals have guided the Football Ferns to a 7-1 win over their Pacific rivals, but the NZ women conceded their first goal of the tournament in the process. Teammates Jacqi Hand and Indiah-Paige Riley also recorded goal doubles.

Jale also had a goal double against Tonga in poolplay.

New Zealand has contested the women's event at every Olympics since Beijing 2008, when Australia switched to the FIFA Asia confederation. 

Riley put her team ahead after just six minutes, after Hand broke down the right and crossed. Hand put her name on the scoresheet, after Riley turned provider. 

Fiji did well to restrict the Kiwis to those two goals with time up in the first half, but conceded three more in stoppage time. Jale headed home a cross from Michaela Foster, before Hand and Riley added their second each.

Reaching the break 5-0 ahead, the Ferns stretched their advantage, when Jale finished off a goalmouth scramble, before converting a header from Hannah Wilkinson at the far post.

The Fijians salvaged some dignity in second-half stoppage time, when Sema Nasau beat the NZ defence and slotted past keeper Anna Leat.

"I am very proud of the progress we are making game by game," said Ferns coach Jitka Klmkova. "We are woking hard on our alignment on the field, we are working hard on how our lines can connect more and that is what we could see today.

"The positive outcomes from our possession, having seven goals in our bag... that's a really, really positive feeling to go to the final."

New Zealand now face Solomon Islands - 3-1 winners over Fiji in poolplay - on Monday and would advance to Paris with victory.

NZ 7 (Jale 3, Hand 2 & Riley 2) Fiji 1 (Nasau)