New Zealand came close to pulling off a memorable result in their second match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India after coming from behind to lead Paraguay but were undone by a late flurry of goals from the South Americans, eventually falling 4-2 in a thrilling encounter this morning. New Zealand led 2-1 at halftime.
Paraguay 4 (Alan Rodriguez 2’, Anibal Vega 75’, 78’, Blas Armoa 90’ + 1’)
New Zealand 2 (Own goals 20’, 34’)
New Zealand: 12. Jacob Clark (GK), 3. Joshua Rogerson (15. Ben Deeley 46’), 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Boyd Curry, 6. Leon van den Hoven, 7. Elijah Just (c), 10. Willem Ebbinge (8. Oliver Duncan 79’), 11. Matthew Conroy, 14. Kingsley Sinclair (17. Matthew Palmer 79’), 18. Charles Spragg, 20. Emlyn Wellsmore
Substitutes not used: 1. Zac Jones (GK), 2. Liam Moore, 13. Matthew Jones, 16. Oliver Whyte, 19. Kieran Richards, 21. Nicholas Milner (GK)
Cautions: Liberto Cacace 81’, Ben Deeley 85’
Coach: Danny Hay
will now need to beat African champions Mali in their final Group B game on Thursday to progress to the knockout stages.
Having gone behind early on in that opening match against the Europeans, New Zealand would have been determined to start more strongly on their return to the Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai but those hopes were dashed in only the second minute. The Kiwis again fond themselves needing to come back from a goal down and it was a bizarre one to concede, Alan Rodriguez shaping up to whip a free kick into the box from wide on New Zealand’s left but somehow managing to loop it all the way over a stranded Jacob Clark and into the far corner.
Just as they had on Friday in their 1-1 draw with Turkey, New Zealand responded well to the early set back though and took just over half an hour to completely turn the score around. They began to exert pressure from the eighth minute when Ebbinge had half of sight of goal from a lofted through ball but lost possession before he could shoot and a pair of Just corners then proved a handful for Paraguay.
As they pressed for the equaliser, New Zealand may well have gone further behind at the other end though, Clark showing good positioning and bravery in the eleventh minute to save a one-on-one effort from Leonard Sanchez at point-blank range.
The first real opportunities for New Zealand to score arrived shortly after, Just relishing the added responsibility of the captaincy to lead by example and fire a shot straight at goalkeeper Diego Huesca from a tight angle. In the follow up, the ball eventually broke to Kingsley Sinclair a few yards outside the area but he curled his ambitious effort well wide.
As it turned out, Hay’s charges did not need to worry about finding the net themselves though as Paraguay captain Alexis Duarte was about to do that for them – and, remarkably, not just once. A nightmare period of play for the defender began on 20 minutes when Paraguay were put under pressure from a well-directed Leon van den Hoven free kick by Kingsley Sinclair and Charles Spragg, forcing the unfortunate Duarte to turn the ball into his own goal.
He did likewise just past the half hour, this time after trademark skill from Just on the left created room for the stand-in skipper to send in a low cross that Duarte could again only force past Huesca to make it 2-1. Clark was called into action seconds later to maintain New Zealand’s new-found lead, making a good save low to his left to deny Leonardo Sanchez before bravely gathering the resulting loose ball.
That enabled the Kiwis to take their hard-fought advantage into the break and, although surviving some scares as Paraguay kept Clark busy with several dangerous balls into the box and a couple of shots on target, it looked like they were odds on for a vital win as the clocked ticked down. They could even have extended their lead just past the hour when another pin-point van den Hoven free kick was met by Spragg – whose older brother Thomas also starred for New Zealand at age-group level – but he could not direct his header under the cross bar.
All that hard work in hauling themselves in front was then undone for New Zealand in the final 15 minutes as the strength in depth available to Paraguay coach Gustavo Morinigo became evident. Anibal Vega and Blas Armoa had both been brought off the bench to try to swing the contest in the South Americans’ favour and they did just that to break the hearts of the New Zealand players.
Vega turned the match on its head in a three-minute spell with a rapid-fire brace, his first coming when he got the better of Clark in a one-on-one duel before he notched again just moments later when meeting a cross to prod home at close range.
Now finding themselves 3-2 down, New Zealand searched desperately for a way back and threw caution to the wind by bringing on both Oliver Duncan and Matthew Palmer and leaving men forward. They nearly earned reward for that when Matthew Conroy flicked a van den Hoven corner onto the underside of the cross bar in the 90th minute but were left short-handed defensively and Armoa took advantage, blasting home Paraguay’s fourth in stoppage time to earn his side’s passage into the knockout stages.
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