The New Zealand U-23 men will take plenty of confidence into their bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after continuing their unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw against Australia in Campbelltown tonight.A defeat is yet to be suffered under the reign of head coach Des Buckingham, who led New Zealand to gold at the Pacific Games and has followed that up with a pair of draws against the old enemy from across the ditch.His main focus for the two-match series in Australia was not on results though with preparing well for the looming Olympic Games qualifiers the most pressing priority. He will be pleased in that regard as New Zealand again put in an impressive showing to force their way back into the game after going behind early.The visitors could even have claimed a win – which would have been just the second for New Zealand over Australia in this age-group – when piling on the pressure in the closing stages.It didn’t look like that would be likely just a few minutes in when goalkeeper Conor Tracey was caught in possession, allowing the speedy Lachlan Wales to give his side the perfect start at the Campbelltown Sports Stadium.Tracey was one of three changes made by Buckingham to the side that faced Australia just a few days earlier in Wollongong, Dane Schnell and Billy Jones also coming in as Cameron Brown, George Stanger and Oliver Whyte all made way.
It was a hero from the first game that appeared to offer New Zealand’s best hope of finding an equaliser though, midfielder Clayton Lewis following up his earlier goal-scoring performance with another dominant display in the middle of the park.New Zealand almost hit back immediately when James McGarry fired a low shot narrowly wide and Max Mata also had a sight of goal but directed his header off target. Tracey then atoned for his earlier error by making an outstanding one-on-one save to deny Wales a second strike.The Kiwi custodian was called into action again to keep out George Blackwood while Australia struggled to contain the creativity of Lewis at the other end, the Scunthorpe United midfielder sending a couple of dangerous deliveries into the box that the likes of Mata and skipper Logan Rogerson couldn’t quite make the most of.But that combination of players wouldn’t be denied just before the break, New Zealand creating a well-deserved equaliser when sharp interplay from Mata and Lewis teed up Rogerson to fire home on the stroke of half-time.
That set up an evenly-poised second half and New Zealand began to emerge as the side most likely to win it. Lewis, McGarry and Myer Bevan all had chances of varying difficulty but Buckingham’s men came closest during a spell of pressure late on.New Zealand dominated the closing stages and very nearly claimed a memorable win when Bevan volleyed a snap shot agonisingly wide while substitute Dylan de Jong and Lewis also had half chances as the clock ticked down.While a rare victory over New Zealand’s traditional sporting foes on away soil wasn’t to be, Buckingham and his charges can be satisfied with their efforts in Australia and will be in a positive frame of mind when the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament takes place later this month in Fiji.
Match DetailsAustralia 1 (Lachlan Wales 3’)New Zealand 1 (Logan Rogerson 45’)HT: 1-1New Zealand: 12. Conor Tracey (GK), 4. Hunter Ashworth (5. George Stanger 46’), 6. Dane Schnell, 7. Myer Bevan, 9. Max Mata (8. Jake Porter 63’), 10. Clayton Lewis, 13. James McGarry (20. Dylan de Jong 78’), 14. Billy Jones, 16. Gianni Stensness, 17. Logan Rogerson (c) (11. Oliver Whyte 69’), 19. Noah BillingsleySubstitutes not used: 1. Cameron Brown (GK), 2. Jordan Spain, 3. Robert Tipelu, 15. Sean Liddicoat, 18. Lachlan McIsaacCautions: James McGarry 68’Coach: Des BuckinghamArticle added: Tuesday 10 September 2019