Amidst unexpected showers in Navi Mumbai, a sound performance by New Zealand granted them a share of spoils against Turkey, who looked far from their ‘technical’ best in the first Group B encounter of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Friday. (India vs USA Live)
Ahmed Kutucu had put Turkey ahead with a resounding header in the first half but it was neutralised by Max Mata’s close finish in the second half as the game ended in a 1-1 draw at the DY Patil Stadium.
From captivating end-to-end football in the opening minutes, shabby passing from the All Whites slowly gave Turkey steady control over the game. The Turks’ first opening came in the seventh minute with defender Melih Gokcimen getting a shot away and forcing Jacob Clark into making an early save. The European team further assessed their dominance with a free kick and corner in the space of three minutes.
Their breakthrough came in the 18th minute when Kerem Kesgin floated in a ball from the corner, which was met by a thumping, but precise header by Kutucu into the bottom right corner to record the tournament’s first goal.
Galatasaray’s Kutucu continued to terrorise New Zealand’s backline with mazy runs and a couple of pinpoint crosses that almost doubled his side’s advantage.
Reflecting on Turkey’s performance, coach Mehmet Hacioglu chose not to highlight individual contributions but on his team’s inability to express themselves.
“I am not talking about individual performances. As a whole team, we could not play very well and to our style which is why we had to settle for a draw. It was not for New Zealand’s physical advantage that the result (was a draw), we could not play our style,” said Hacioglu.
New Zealand on the other hand looked brilliant in spaces, especially with skipper Max Mata on the ball. Mata made a couple of excellent runs down the left flank to put the ball across, let down only by the finishing touches.
The second half though told a different story. New Zealand pressed the Turkish defense relentlessly. Their incessant charges were rewarded in the 58th minute.
A quickly-taken free-kick from Elijah Just just outside the box caught Turkey off-guard with the rolling pass finding its way to Mata who slid it past Berke Ozer to equalise.
New Zealand continued to rile up the pressure, leaving the Turks with just one clear-cut opportunity in the second half; a shot from skipper Recep Gul that was brilliantly parried away by Clark.
The All Whites almost sealed the game in the 83rd minute with substitute Matthew Palmer driving in from the right flank before pulling it back for Just whose shot came off the post.
The biggest blow for New Zealand coach Danny Hay though, will not be their missed opportunities but Mata’s send off in additional time, following a second yellow card. By far, New Zealand’s most threatening player, Mata will miss their second game against Paraguay on October 9.
Hay, although disappointed with the referee’s decision, said Mata’s absence will provide other players the opportunity to step up. “I’ve looked at it from different angles and I think it was a tough decision which could have been avoided. The ref could have let him go. It’s a shame that the WC is robbed of such top players,” said Hay.
“Now it’s an opportunity to step up for another player. It could play a huge part in our campaign but it will also give a chance to someone else to step up,” he added.