The new-look NZF Futsal National League kicked off over the weekend with Auckland and Northern playing out two tightly-contested draws while WaiBOP were able to overcome Central-Hawke’s Bay in both of their fixtures.
The league, which now sees all eight teams enjoying home matches at some point, got off to the best possible start with all four games of the first-ever ‘Northern Division Home Series’ showcasing some of New Zealand’s brightest up-and-coming futsal players.
The first game at Massey University in Albany saw defending champions Auckland take on last year’s wooden spoon holders Northern but with a 3-3 result it looks like Northern could be the new dark horse for the 2016 season.
Early goals to Auckland captain Marvin Eakins gave his side a two-nil lead at the half before Sam Twigg hit back for Northern at the start of the second period, which made for an enthralling last 15 minutes and resulted in each team coming away with a point after a 3-3 draw.
Adam Scott was the additional goal-scorer for Auckland while Eden Caudwell and Nikola Velkovski replied for Northern.
It was a great result for an improved Northern side and a performance that captain Naji Ghamri believes will give his side the confidence to compete with the best this season.
“We were able to match it with the defending champions so there’s no reason why we can’t keep these performances up and finish in the top four this season,” he said.
The other first fixture was played out by WaiBOP and Central-Hawke’s Bay at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre and brought WaiBOP a 3-0 win – a result that was probably not a fair reflection of how the game panned out.
Goals to Dominic O’Sullivan, Brayden Lissington and Mahmood Alfarraji earned WaiBOP the victory but the stand-out was goalkeeper Harry Porritt, who managed to keep the Bay scoreless with an outstanding performance between the sticks.
Porritt was quick to gain praise from Hawke’s Bay coach Chris Greatholder, who labelled the custodian man of the match.
“Harry was absolutely superb, I think he made at least three times the amount of saves our ‘keeper did so he was definitely their rock at the back today,” he said. “I’m sure we could have been there for another hour and still not put one past him.”
The second round of games saw Auckland and Northern battle out another fiercely-fought draw with each team netting four.
Northern youngster Sam Twigg was able to grab a brace – as did Auckland’s Sander Waterland – with an eye-catching performance but it seemed the defensive structure at both ends needs work with Twigg pointing out his side needs to improve in this area if they want to progress in the competition.
“We need to work on our defensive shape, it’s where we’re leaking most of our goals and is due to minor lapses of concentration, but I’m sure these improvements will come over time,” he said.
Auckland player Aalok Paudel addressed the same fault as his side’s chink in the armour.
“We shouldn’t be conceding that many goals,” he said. “It’s early on so we’ll re-group from here and look to adjust those areas in our defensive structure.”
The second match between WaiBOP and Hawke’s Bay also went down to the wire with WaiBOP claiming their second victory by a 3-2 margin. The late winner came from Bahram Ahmadi, breaking Bay’s hearts in what was still a great turn around after being beaten 3-0 by the same opponent just hours earlier.
Luke Maynard had notched a double to put the Bay two goals up but they weren’t able to hold on as WaiBOP roared back with three unanswered strikes of their own.
WaiBOP captain Sam Masterson grabbed a lot of positives from his side’s performance and is adamant this year is going to turn out a bit differently.
“I think the difference between us this season to previous years is that everyone can go out and do a job and not just pass the ball around but create goal-scoring opportunities,” he said.
The revamped Futsal National League continues this weekend with the inaugural ‘Southern Division Home Series’.
For the full Futsal National League draw please click here
Futsal National League – Northern Division Home Series
Central Futsal-Hawke’s Bay 0
WaiBOP Futsal 3 (Dominic O’Sullivan, Brayden Lissington, Mahmood Alfarraji)
AFF Futsal 3 (Marvin Eakins 2, Adam Scott)
Northern Futsal 3 (Sam Twigg, Eden Caudwell, Nikola Velkovski)
WaiBOP Futsal 3 (Liam Steffert, Logan Wisnewski, Bahram Ahmadi)
Central Futsal-Hawke’s Bay 2 (Luke Maynard 2)
Northern Futsal 4 (Sam Twigg 2, Barry Grehan, Abdallah Amleh)
AFF Futsal 4 (Stephen Ashby, Sander Waterland 2, Myron Manickum)