All Whites coach Anthony Hudson called for a performance for New Zealand to be proud of and his boys delivered with an incredible effort only to fall to a 2-1 defeat to Mexico in the FIFA Confederations Cup at Sochi this morning.
The All Whites deserved their half-time lead after an outstanding finish for the opening goal by Chris Wood from a Clayton Lewis ball a few minutes before half-time. Mexico rallied in the second half and Raul Jimenez levelled the score in the 54th minute when finding the top corner at the end of a free-flowing move.
New Zealand hearts were then broken though as Oribe Peralta smashed home a cut back off the inside of the near post to put Mexico in front in the 72nd minute. They could, and probably should, have made it three when Juergen Damm weaved his way into the box and did everything but score.
The All Whites had their chances to get something out of the game in the dying stages and threw everything at the side ranked 17th in the world but were denied a hugely memorable result as Mexico successfully closed out the win.
Hudson made two changes to his starting side from the opening 2-0 loss to Russia. Lewis came in for Kosta Barbarouses – with Marco Rojas joining Wood up front – while Dane Ingham earned his first start of the tour in replacing Kip Colvey at right wing-back. In the process, the 18-year-old became the second-youngest player in FIFA Confederations Cup history, the youngest being his skipper Wood back in 2009.
The 95th-ranked All Whites were looking to bounce back from their first-up defeat and began the match strongly, creating a chance to score inside the first 10 minutes.
The OFC Nations Cup champions almost took the lead when Michael Boxall headed a Michael McGlinchey free kick across goal but Tommy Smith couldn’t quite get a touch to finish it off. The other member of New Zealand’s back three, Andrew Durante, got his head to the resulting corner from Marco Rojas but it was a difficult chance and his effort went over the bar.
Mexico were fast on the break throughout and soon back on attack at the other end. A well-worked move put Giovani dos Santos in space and he met a cross with his head but it was deflected out for a goal kick by one of his own players.
The pressure continued to come from the highly-ranked Mexicans and, a minute later, they broke into the box with purpose but the All Whites defence scrambled and midfielder Ryan Thomas was on hand to stop the move with a brilliant block.
The Kiwis held firm though and continued to threaten themselves. Another chance fell to Smith who climbed high to meet another Rojas corner but goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera was able to make a straightforward save. It was turning into a physical battle in the middle of the park and Thomas became the first player to go into the book when he was adjudged to have unfairly challenged a player from behind.
The Mexicans were clearly getting frustrated and were under more pressure when Lewis, who put in a magnificent display in the heart of New Zealand’s midfield, almost picked out Rojas with a lovely through ball but it was cut out just before it could reach the Melbourne Victory star.
The All Whites had their best opportunity so far soon after when Wood found himself in space on the edge of the area but Talavera pulled off an outstanding save to deny him in the 27th minute.
But Wood would not be kept out for much longer and New Zealand took a fully-deserved lead in the 42nd minute, the captain hammering home a great finish after being played in by a perfect pass from Lewis. It was a moment of outstanding play which had the All Whites believing they could pull off an improbable win.
It was also Wood’s 20th goal for his country in his 51st international and moved him one strike closer to the all-time record of 29, held by Vaughan Coveny.
Hudson’s men carried that lead into the half-time break and the 22.000 crowd were left in stunned silence as the teams made their way into the dressing rooms. After the break, the All Whites did well to hold out a few waves of Mexican attack and then created another golden opportunity to double their advantage in the 53rd minute.
It was that combination of Lewis and Wood that again caused the Mexican defence problems. The midfielder picked his skipper out with another lovely ball but by the time Wood had it under control Talavera was on top of him and did well to smother at his feet.
The All Whites were swiftly punished for failing to take that chance when Mexico scored with the next passage of play. The diving Marinovic got a hand to Jimenez’s well-struck effort in the 54th-minute but the power took it into the net, much to the relief of a Mexican side who were in need of three points to boost their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.
Bill Tuiloma was brought on for the outstanding Lewis shortly after the equaliser as New Zealand continued to try to take the game to Mexico. Thomas, another stand-out in the All Whites midfield, had half a sight of goal just past the hour when cutting onto his right foot and shooting but his effort was well blocked.
The class of Mexico eventually told though as a break down the left allowed Peralta to become the match-winning hero with just over quarter of an hour remaining.
But even at 2-1 down, New Zealand were far from out of the contest and Hudson made two further changes in an attempt to get something from the game, Kosta Barbarouses coming on for Rojas and Monty Patterson replacing Ingham.
Smith nearly headed in a Tuiloma long throw but the All Whites’ best moment of the half arrived with just five minutes remaining, Thomas nearly curling an effort into the top corner but being agonisingly denied an equaliser by the post.
Tempers flared in additional time as both sets of players were engaged in a pushing and shoving contest, which held play up as the referee consulted video footage and eventually dished out three bookings.
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New Zealand then did all they could to get back on level terms, including throwing goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic forward, but could not find what would have gone down as one of the most significant goals in the country’s footballing history.
Despite the loss, Hudson and his players will take huge confidence from matching such a classy opponent and will look to finish their FIFA Confederations Cup campaign on a high against Portugal. They will travel to St Petersburg tomorrow to prepare for their final Group A game against the World No 8 at the Krestovsky Stadium on Saturday night.
Mexico 2 (Raul Jimenez 54’, Oribe Peralta 72’)
New Zealand 1 (Chris Wood 42’)
New Zealand 1. Stefan Marinovic (GK), 3. Deklan Wynne, 5. Michael Boxall (yellow card 90’ + 6’), 8. Michael McGlinchey, 9. Chris Wood (c), 11. Marco Rojas (7. Kosta Barbarouses 73’), 14. Ryan Thomas (yellow card 26’), 15. Clayton Lewis (6. Bill Tuiloma 58’), 16. Dane Ingham (13. Monty Patterson 82’), 20. Tommy Smith, 22. Andrew Durante
Substitutes not used: 2. Sam Brotherton, 4. Themi Tzimopoulos, 12. Glen Moss (GK), 10. Shane Smeltz, 17. Thomas Doyle, 18. Kip Colvey, 19. Alex Rufer, 21. Storm Roux, 23. Tamati Williams (GK)
Coach: Anthony Hudson
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw
24 June 6pm (3am 25 June NZT) v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
Live on SKY Sport