The New Zealand Men’s U-17 side reached the knockout stage of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Monday with a dramatic 2-1 win over Paraguay at the Estadio Chinquihue in Puerto Montt, Chile.
Needing the victory to secure their place in the round of 16 of the tournament for the third time, Danny Hay’s side were facing elimination in stoppage time with the score locked at 1-1 but Lucas Imrie’s volleyed winner in the 91st minute turned things around completely.
Earlier, New Zealand took an 11th minute lead via a Hunter Ashworth header from Connor Probert’s corner but Paraguay responded and drew level two minutes before halftime as Marcelino Namandu’s deflected shot flew beyond Michael Woud in the New Zealand goal after the ball had struck both the crossbar and the post in the lead-up.
Chasing the winner in the second half, New Zealand seemed set to be denied against 10 men after chances came and went to Logan Rogerson, Connor Probert and substitute Sarpreet Singh but Imrie’s volleyed finish secured their berth in the knockout phase against Brazil on Thursday (NZ time).
The energy and commitment of the New Zealand side saw the team open the match on the front foot, causing issues for Paraguay from a succession of set pieces and it was by that method Hay’s side took the lead in the 11th minute.
Probert’s whipped corner was met at the near post by Ashworth who glanced his header into the far side netting to give New Zealand the lead.
But from there Paraguay went up a gear and began to string together more regular phases of possession but without regularly threatening Michael Woud in the New Zealand goal.
Woud was called into action twice in the opening 35 minutes, down well to save a shot after a New Zealand turnover before an excellent tip over from a goal bound Paraguay effort just after the half hour mark.
With halftime approaching Paraguay drew level in bizarre circumstances, hitting the cross bar and the post in a flurry of action after a free kick which also saw Woud make an excellent stop.
But the danger wasn’t cleared and Namandu found space to fire in a shot from the angle which took a deflection through a crowd of players on its way into Woud’s net.
The second half turned on the dismissal of Namandu for a second caution with the New Zealand side pushing forward against the 10 men of Paraguay, Rogerson enjoying the first good chance - seeing his low shot bound for the bottom right corner turned aside by goalkeeper Miguel Martinez just after the hour.
New Zealand continued to press for a winner and 10 minutes later, moments after joining the action from the bench, Sarpreet Singh teed up Probert with an excellent cut back from the byline but the wide man slipped at the vital moment without testing Martinez.
Singh himself was unlucky not to put New Zealand ahead soon after, seeing his shot from distance touched onto the crossbar by Martinez but there was still time for the Wellington Phoenix player to set up Imrie’s winner with a delicious scooped pass which, when slammed home by the New Zealand striker, sent the Kiwis wild as they reached the round of 16 as they did in 2009 and 2011.
The Men’s U-17s will now face Group B winners Brazil at the Estadio Sausalito in Vina del Mar on Thursday 29 October at 9am (NZ time).
FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 – Group F
Monday 26 October
Puerto Montt, Chile
New Zealand 2-1 Paraguay (half: 1-1)
NZL: Hunter Ashworth 11’, Lucas Imrie 90+1’
PAR: Marcelino Namandu 43’
New Zealand: 1. Michael Woud (GK), 2. Jack-Henry Sinclair (capt - 15. Luke Johnson 88’), 5. Liam Williams, 8. Dane Schnell, 9. Connor Probert, 10. Logan Rogerson, 11. James McGarry, 13. Joe Bell (17. Callum McCowatt 60’), 14. Owen Parker-Price (7. Sarpreet Singh 71’), 16. Hunter Ashworth, 20. Lucas Imrie
Substitutes not used: 3. Liam Jones, 4. Oliver Ceci, 6. Ben Mata, 12. Reuben Clark (GK), 18. Ahmad Mohammadi, 19. Sean Skeens, 21. Christian Woodbridge (GK)
Coach: Danny Hay
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