“I didn’t play too well against the Solomon Islands nor did the rest of the team,” Oliver Whyte concedes after New Zealand’s second game of the OFC Under 17 Football Championships in Tahiti.
An 84th minute goal by Charles Spragg gave New Zealand a 2-1 win, but it was an unconvincing display.
“That was the hottest game we played. It was 31 degrees, but that’s no excuse. We had a long, hard look at ourselves after that one and changed a few things,” Whyte admits.
New Zealand crushed Fiji 5-0 in their last group game to temporarily appease the demands of their coaching staff, but the problems that plagued the Kiwis against the Solomon Islands returned in the semi-final against Papua New Guinea.
“They were quite a good side. They had good dribbling skills and a few individuals who could keep the ball for a long time, but we didn’t play well for long periods. We went away from what we were supposed to do,” Whyte complains.
Approaching extra time the scores were tied at a goal apiece when Max Mata stripped the ball from a Papua New Guinea attacker, Whyte describes what happened next.
“Max got the ball at halfway and dribbled up the field. I followed in support and headed towards the penalty box. Max took the ball to the byline and crossed. I managed to reach the ball first and get a little toe poke on it. The ball went into the bottom of the net.”
New Zealand won 2-1 and by virtue of reaching the final guaranteed their place at the World Cup in India in October.
“I felt pretty good to score the goal. I think the boys were thinking too much about making the World Cup in some of the early games. When we achieved that goal it was a huge relief and allowed us to play with more freedom in the final,” Whyte says.
New Zealand crushed New Caledonia 7-0 in the decider, a performance Whyte praised as “professional.”
New Zealand will have a series of camps before the World Cup. In the meantime Whyte will play senior football and concludes his season for the Wellington Phoenix Under-20’s in the Stirling Sports Premiership next week.
Whyte attends Scots College.
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