New Zealand have begun their FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign with a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Vietnam at the Cheonan Sports Complex in the Korea Republic.
The Darren Bazeley-coached team, who have set the goal of improving on the Round of 16 performance from the tournament here in New Zealand two years ago, finished the game the stronger of the two sides but could not convert a host of late chances to claim all three points.
Logan Rogerson, who came on for Henry Cameron in the 69th minute, made a telling impact in the final 20 minutes as the OFC U-20 Champions searched for a winner. In the 76th minute he hit a powerful shot which was well-saved by the Vietnamese keeper Tien Dung Bui and five minutes later he delivered a perfect cross which the New Zealand front-line could not convert.
It was that sort of night for New Zealand as Vietnam, the 19th Asian team to compete at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, frustrated them with a determined display which showed they belong at this level.
It felt like a home game for the men in red as they were cheered on relentlessly by their rowdy fans who made their presence heard in the 6975-strong crowd and could have easily claimed all three points in the closing stages.
New Zealand fans held their breath when substitute Hoang Duc Nguyen had the perfect chance to claim a famous win in the 85th minute but he could not hit the target from close range.
Another substitute, New Zealand’s Lucas Imrie also had a late chance to steal all three points but his header from a Moses Dyer-ball was a tough chance and he could not hit the target.
The draw sees New Zealand and Vietnam level on one point in Group E behind favourites France who are top after they defeated Honduras 3-0 to underline their title credentials.
New Zealand were put under pressure by the FIFA World Cup debutants who showed little signs of early nerves on the big stage.
Forwards Thanh Binh Dinh and Duc Chinh Ha were a constant threat for Vietnam going forward and could have managed the opening goal but for some good work in goal from Michael Woud who had a busy first half.
Dinh had the best scoring chance early on when he found space in the box but he dragged it wide. Two minutes later, Ha could not convert from close range as Vietnam could not convert their second chance in as many minutes.
Van Hau Doan got in on the act with a long range shot which Woud tipped over the bar with the faintest of touches to keep a clean sheet heading into half time.
New Zealand finished the half as the stronger team and the best chance so far fell to Noah Billingsley from a Clayton Lewis corner, but he could not get his header on target.
New Zealand carried that momentum in the second half when forward Bevan and captain Lewis had half chances they could not convert. Cameron earned a free kick just outside the box but the All White’s shot was always over the bar.
In the second half Vietnam looked dangerous on the counter-attack, but the last 45 minutes was dominated by New Zealand who found their rhythm. They walked off the pitch disappointed they didn’t get more from the game.
Bazeley made a host of changes with Rogerson, Lucas Imrie and James McGarry coming into the fold, but for all of the chances the men in white created they could not combine to break down a red wall of defence.
New Zealand are back in action on Thursday night (11pm NZT) where they meet Honduras in what shapes as a must-win match if they are to advance to the Round of 16.
New Zealand 0 Vietnam 0 HT 0-0
NZ: Michael Woud, 2. Dane Ingham, 3. Sean Liddicoat, 5. Hunter Ashworth, 8. Moses Dyer, 9. Noah Billingsley (20. Lucas Imrie 80’) 10. Clayton Lewis ©, 11. Henry Cameron (17. Logan Rogerson 69’), 14. Jack-Henry Sinclair (13. James McGarry), 15. Reese Cox, 19. Myer Bevan
Subs not used: 4. Luke Johnson, 6. Joe Bell, 7. Connor Probert, 12. Cameron Brown, 16. Callum McCowatt, 18. Sarpreet Singh, 21 Conor Tracey.