New Zealand wanted a lesson in South American football and Chile duly delivered in Racagua.
The South America middleweights were a class above Ricki Herbert’s under-strength All Whites to win Wednesday’s tour opener 4-1 before an 8000-strong Estadio El Teniente crowd in Racagua, a 90 minute drive south of Chile’s capital Santiago.
New Zealand stunned the vocal local crowd when striker Shane Smeltz coolly tucked home Noah Hickey’s cross from the right to score his maiden international goal his 11 match to give the All Whites a 14th minute lead.
But Chile were rarely troubled after scoring twice in the space of three minutes to lead 2-1 at halftime, the first to striker Humberto Sauzo in the 36th minute and the second when All Whites midfielder Jeremy Christie could only turn Manuel Itarra’s cross into his own net.
The fancy-footed Chileans poured on the style in the second half to double their advantage with goals from Sebastian Roco and substitute Eduardo Rubio.
New Zealand came to Chile for a taste of South American football with an eye to a possible 2010 FIFA World Cup playoff. It was always going to be a difficult with 14 front-liners – including Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott and Ivan Vicelich – injured or unavailable.
But aside from the opening 15 minutes, New Zealand did not help themselves with sloppy defending and rushed and inaccurate passing as Chile squeezed the All Whites defensively. By the end New Zealand had lost shape and, to a degree, much of their opening half fight.
Coach Herbert was disappointed but philosophical afterwards.
“I’m not going to lose sight of where we’re heading and when you look at where we’ve come to play, it’s at a totally different level to what the majority, if not all, our players have ever experienced,” Herbert explained.
“If we’re looking at the World Cup these are experiences we need to have. Tonight was a reminder that we have a lot of work to do and we’re prepared to do that work…we’ve got to move on.”
Herbert was reluctant to single out players but felt aggressive midfielder Jeremy Christie had “evolved” into the match and was pleased with Smeltz’s workrate and the way the AFC Wimbledon marksman took his goal.
“I thought tonight we could put ticks alongside some names while there were probably some poor performances from some players,” he said.
“But that’s not unexpected to be fair. We knew it would be tough but that’s what we are here to find out. There are going to be some out of the 11 who move forward and some that aren’t.”
Herbert knew exactly what New Zealand were in for when he attended a Chilean club match between Colo Colo and Universidad Catolica on Sunday. The difficulty is attempting to combat the Chileans’ ability to build up play patiently before springing a deadly attack with a cleverly threaded pass.
“We talked about that before the game, their ability to work the ball forward and to play in and around the 18-yard box so fluidly,” Herbert said.
“It’s just their movement, they shift you around and move you out of position and then exploit the gaps.”
What disappointed Herbert most were the losses of concentration that gifted Chile possession and eventually goals.
“I was more disappointed with individual players as opposed to the team as a whole. There was the own goal and then a miss clearance. Those are the sort of things you going to get punished for and we did.”
Herbert promised changes to his starting XI for the second and final match of the tour at Nicolas Chahuan Nazar Stadium in Calera on Friday (kickoff 10.30am NZT).
“There will be changes, some due to performances tonight. But we’ve also signaled we need these two games to look at players and we’ll do that.”
April 25, 2006
Chile 4 (Humberto Sauzo 36, own goal 39, Sebastian Roco 61, Eduardo Rubio 67) New Zealand 1 (Shane Smeltz 14). Halftime: 2-1
New Zealand: Glen Moss, Steven Old, Danny Hay (captain), Che Bunce (James Pritchett 78), Tony Lochhead, Jeremy Christie, Tim Brown (Kris Bouckenooghe 63), Raf De Gregorio, Noah Hickey (Campbell Banks 74), Leo Bertos (Paul Urlovic 74), Shane Smeltz.
Chile: 1-Claudio Bravo (captain), 18-Gonzalo Jara, 4-Mauricio Zenteno, 19-Sebastian Roco, 6-Roberto Cereceda (2-Jose Contreras 57) , 17-Arturo Sanhueza, 16-Manuel Itarra, 14-Jorge Valdivia, 10-Matias Fernandez, 11-Juan Lorca, 26-Humberto Sauzo (7-Eduardo Rubio).