The All Whites fought valiantly in their final game of the FIFA Confederations Cup to again show their potential on the world stage but the class of a Cristiano Ronaldo-captained Portugal eventually told in a 4-0 defeat in St Petersburg this morning.
New Zealand were well in the contest for much of their match against the world’s eighth-ranked team but were unable to break them down in a physical and entertaining contest in front of 56,290 fans at Krestovsky Stadium.
Ronaldo, from the penalty spot, and Bernardo Silva scored within four minutes of each other towards the end of the first half which proved to be the match-winning moments for the European champions.
New Zealand enjoyed one of their best periods after half-time and very nearly got back into the game when Chris Wood slid in to meet a low Thomas Doyle cross at the back post but the skipper’s effort was cleared off the line by the desperate Portuguese defence.
Portugal withstood that spell from the All Whites though and rallied by adding a third goal in the 80th minute when Andre Silva went on a long searching run and delivered a fine finish past Stefan Marinovic. They then wrapped up the scoring late on through substitute Nani to join Mexico in progressing from Group A.
The winning margin could have been higher but for a number of quality saves in the All Whites goal from Marinovic, who once again underlined his quality as a top-level goalkeeper.
Ryan Thomas, who has had an outstanding Confederations Cup in the middle of the park, was another to again show his ability with a skilful and determined display. Thomas was at the heart of most of the attacking enterprise shown by the Kiwis, who refused to sit back and let Portugal dictate terms.
The OFC Nations Cup champions began brightly as they looked to back up their impressive performance against Mexico in Sochi on Wednesday night. Coach Anthony Hudson made one change from the team which went down heroically in that game, Thomas Doyle coming into the left wing-back position for Deklan Wynne.
The All Whites threatened from the other flank in the opening moments though, Dane Ingham picking out Wood with a perfectly-placed deep cross but the skipper was at a tough angle and put his effort straight at goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Seven minutes later, Clayton Lewis – again impressive with Thomas in midfield – looked to play Wood into space with a trademark through ball but the offside flag was raised.
The sizeable Portuguese contingent in the crowd began to grow impatient with their team’s lack of chances and in the 24th minute the players responded by seriously testing Marinovic for the first time. Ronaldo had his first sight of goal but directed his header straight at Marinovic and came even closer moments later when rattling the cross bar with another headed attempt.
The pressure finally told when the New Zealand defence, which had been so resolute up to that point, conceded a penalty just past the half hour. Doyle and Tommy Smith got their legs tangled with midfielder Danilo in an awkward challenge and Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot, placing his effort into the top right-hand corner.
The classy Europeans well and truly had their swagger after the opening goal and, just four minutes later, found the back of the net once more. Eliseu made inroads down the left flank and then delivered a perfect cut-back for Silva to slot home from in front of goal under the challenge of Doyle.
In response to going two behind, Hudson made an early change as Bill Tuiloma came off the bench to replace Michael McGlinchey shortly before half-time. Later in the game, Hudson continued to think positively, bringing on Kosta Barbarouses and Shane Smeltz in attacking changes to try to get on the scoresheet.
Ronaldo came off with just over 20 minutes to play – handing the captain’s arm band to his replacement Nani – but the Portuguese still attacked in search of a third goal. They were well held out by a New Zealand defence that dealt with everything thrown at them until Andre Silva made it three with 10 minutes to play.
It looked like that’s how it would stay until former Manchester United star Nani stepped up in additional time to rifle a left-foot shot into the far bottom corner. The third and fourth goals both arrived after the All Whites had moved from their usual 3-5-2 system to a more attacking set-up to bravely try to get something from the game and subsequently had less hands on deck defensively.
Just before Nani’s late intervention, New Zealand again nearly earned reward for their impressive endeavour when a Tuiloma long throw caused problems for Portugal and Wood headed back across the face of goal to Michael Boxall, who turned the ball goalwards but saw his shot saved right on the line.
Marco Rojas had also tried his luck a few minutes earlier with a volley on the turn from distance that fizzed over the cross bar while Wood also stung the palms of Patricio with a long-range attempt.
And there was still time for another good opportunity in the dying stages, substitutes Barbarouses and Smeltz combining neatly to break into the box but the former not able to keep his effort down.
Despite the loss, it was another step forward for Hudson’s team and they will take confidence from the fact they have battled admirably against one of the world’s best teams.
The All Whites depart Russia tomorrow and their next fixture will be against the Solomon Islands at home in September as they look to win the final stage of OFC qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
New Zealand 0
Portugal 4 (Cristiano Ronaldo pen 33’, Bernardo Silva 37’, Andre Silva 80’, Nani 90’ + 1’)
Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
New Zealand: 1. Stefan Marinovic (GK), 5. Michael Boxall, 8. Michael McGlinchey (6. Bill Tuiloma 36’) 9. Chris Wood (c), 11. Marco Rojas, 14. Ryan Thomas, 15. Clayton Lewis (yellow card 19’) (7. Kosta Barbarouses 65’), 16. Dane Ingham (yellow card 82’), 17. Thomas Doyle, 20. Tommy Smith, 22. Andrew Durante (10. Shane Smeltz 74’)
Substitutes not used: 2. Sam Brotherton, 3. Deklan Wynne, 4. Themi Tzimopoulos, 12. Glen Moss (GK), 13. Monty Patterson, 18. Kip Colvey, 19. Alex Rufer, 21. Storm Roux, 23. Tamati Williams (GK)
Coach: Anthony Hudson