Another piece of history has been made by New Zealand at the FIFA U-20 World Cup after an outstanding performance in a 2-0 defeat to tournament favourites France helped secure a place in the much sought-after Round of 16.
Darren Bazeley’s side also qualified for the knockout stages of the previous event two years ago as hosts but wrote another chapter into the record books today in the Korea Republic by progressing out of pool play on foreign soil for the first ever time.
New Zealand were always likely to be up against it in taking on the classy French – who led the group with a perfect record and were yet to concede a goal – and that task was made even tougher when the services of captain Clayton Lewis and key defender Dane Ingham no longer became available. The talented pair – both hugely influential figures in the U-20 camp – were both named in the senior All Whites squad for the upcoming pre-Confederations Cup tour and were therefore withdrawn so they could link up with Anthony Hudson’s men.
Bazeley and his young charges could, however, approach the France challenge safe in the knowledge that any points may not be necessary after already giving themselves a great chance of going through by earlier drawing with Vietnam and sweeping aside Honduras. That proved to be the case as Honduras defeated Vietnam 2-0 in the other Group E match, allowing New Zealand to finish second and contemplate a Round of 16 tie on Thursday against the top finisher in Group F.
— Newshub Sport (@NewshubSport) May 28, 2017
In the absence of Lewis and Ingham, Bazeley made good use of his squad depth at the Daejeon World Cup Stadium, bringing in Wellington Phoenix academy products Sarpreet Singh and Jack-Henry Sinclair while Phoenix professional Logan Rogerson replaced Noah Billingsley up front and Moses Dyer took the captain’s armband. Knowing his side might not need to go all-out for the win, Bazeley would have been tempted to adopt a cautious approach but New Zealand instead tore out of the blocks, pinning a much-changed France line-up back in their own half during an inspired opening quarter of an hour.
The Kiwis nearly earned due reward for their adventurous start in the fifth minute when James McGarry curled a phenomenal ball into the France box with the outside of his left boot and Myer Bevan connected well with his header, only to see goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni make an outstanding save.
Several other dangerous situations were then created as New Zealand continued to stun France by piling on the pressure while Michael Woud made a brilliant stop – the first of a series that ran throughout the match – at the other end to maintain the clean sheet. If anyone was going to open the scoring, the Oceania champions looked the more likely but France then underlined the level of talent at their disposal as the prodigiously-gifted Allan Saint-Maximin took control of the contest.
The first of his two strikes arrived against the run of play in the 22nd minute and was of rare quality, the forward jinking through several challenges along the edge of the area before rifling an unstoppable shot past the impressive Woud. It was a contender for goal of the tournament but, amazingly, Saint-Maximin then produced an even better effort shortly before the break, showing some tricky footwork out on the left before somehow finding the far corner over Woud from a seemingly impossible angle.
With the French now in the mood, Bazeley must have feared a blow-out in the second half but his side continued to compete well with their more illustrious rivals – many of who play regularly in France’s top flight – and could even have got on the scoresheet themselves. A heroic man-of-the-match performance from Sunderland custodian Woud was keeping New Zealand in the game while Bevan, Singh and Logan Rogerson all came close at the other end.
The Singh opportunity came just after the hour and was one of the best moves of the match by either side, Bevan and Rogerson combining to produce some neat interplay and tee up Singh, who would have been disappointed to lift his effort over the crossbar. Just a few minutes later, Bevan – who scored twice in the 3-1 win over Honduras – controlled a Sinclair cross and hit a sharp volley on the turn but couldn’t beat Bernardoni.
New Zealand were well-deserving of a goal but were not made to pay for those missed opportunities and will now turn their attention to creating more history on Thursday evening.
New Zealand 0
France 2 (Allan Saint-Maximin 22’, 37’)
New Zealand: 1. Michael Woud (GK), 3. Sean Liddicoat, 5. Hunter Ashworth, 6. Joe Bell, 8. Moses Dyer (c) (16. Callum McCowatt 85’), 13. James McGarry (yellow card 60’) (7. Connor Probert 82’), 14. Jack-Henry Sinclair, 15. Reese Cox, 17. Logan Rogerson, 18. Sarpreet Singh, 19. Myer Bevan (20. Lucas Imrie 88’)
Substitutes not used: 4. Luke Johnson, 9. Noah Billingsley, 11. Henry Cameron, 12. Cameron Brown (GK), 21. Conor Tracey (GK)
Coach: Darren Bazeley