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Dugan on target for NZ

Tui Dugan on the attack for Wairarapa United in the 2021 W-League. PHOTO/FILE


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Former Wairarapa United captain Tui Dugan starred for the Junior Football Ferns, scoring her first international goal in their comeback 2-1 win over Australia in an U-20 World Cup warm-up game on Sunday.

Australia took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break at Auckland’s Kiwitea St ground after capitalising on an early defensive.

The game’s flow changed about 10 minutes into the second half when Dugan, playing in the unaccustomed role of leftwing, latched on to a beautiful diagonal cross from right fullback Zoe McMeeken, and after a one-two with Alyssa Whinham, coolly beat the Australian goalkeeper to equalise.

Dugan said having her parents, Niels and Kirsten, in the grandstand gave her an extra thrill.

The significance of the goal didn’t kick in for a while. “I was just stoked for us to be back in the game at that stage because everyone thought it was a write-off because they were all over us at that time. It definitely gave us a spring in our step.”

A late penalty to Kate Taylor sealed the victory, the Junior Football Ferns’ first in their four-game series against their transtasman rivals, in their build-up to August’s World Cup in Costa Rica.

Dugan said she felt a win was close after a 5-1 loss and a 1-1 draw in their two clashes in Australia in April.

“It was definitely a challenge because they have quite a few players who are playing for the Matildas [their full national team] and some of them play in the A-League, so they had some talent in the midfield and some big names. It’s really good to come away with a win.”

The two teams met in the fourth and final game in the series on Wednesday behind closed doors in Auckland, but Dugan was expected to sit out the game after aggravating an irritating quadricep injury.

A surplus of depth in the midfield has had Dugan move to the wing, and she admits it is taking some getting used to the new role, although she said former coach Paul Ifill put a different spin on the switch.

“I spoke to Paul about it the other day and he said, ‘If you don’t know what you’re doing how are the other team going to know what you’re going to do?’”

Dugan returned to New Zealand for the series after starting a sports scholarship with Arizona State University in the spring semester.

She reconnected with the Wellington Phoenix Academy, playing for the women’s development team in matches against boys’ teams, before heading to the U-20 training camps in Auckland, where she will stay for most of the World Cup build-up.

The squad for the World Cup, where the Junior Football Ferns will come up against hosts Costa Rica, Germany, and Mexico, will be named later this month.

After the World Cup, Dugan will return to Arizona State University in Tempe, however, she is in two minds about whether that’s the direction she wants to take her football career.

“It’s a different culture and not something I’m used to,” she said.

“I’m still trying to decide if it’s for me or not because I’m definitely a lot more suited to the more emphasising the fun and how beautiful the game is, and it’s not really how they do it over there, so we’ll see where it takes me, but I might end up going in a different direction.”

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