A New Zealand side that finished with 10 men after the last-gasp dismissal of Max Mata has begun its FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign in positive fashion in India, coming from behind to draw 1-1 with a slick Turkey outfit.
In the build-up to the clash, New Zealand captain Mata spoke of the need to begin brightly against a Turkey side renowned for their strong starts to matches. But the Europeans were able to continue that tradition and appeared to adapt more quickly to the soaking conditions as the rain poured down at the Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
There was an early scare for the Kiwis as Ahmed Kutucu fired into the side netting from a tight angle and goalkeeper Jacob Clark was forced into action soon after, making a brake save at his near post to keep out a low drive at close range from Melih Gokcimen. It was a special day for Clark, who was making his first competitive appearance for his country as one of four changes to the starting line-up from the team that secured World Cup qualification with a win over Tahiti in February.
After riding the storm as Turkey dominated the opening ten minutes, New Zealand issued a reminder of their attacking abilities when Mata played in Elijah Just down the left and he picked out Kingsley Sinclair in the box. But Sinclair was off balance as he struck his effort towards goal and could not make a clean connection as the ball bobbled wide.
New Zealand were made to pay for spurning that opportunity in the 18th minute when danger man Kutucu put Turkey ahead in stunning fashion, showing amazing technique and power to head in a corner from a long way out.
After drilling into his charges the need to start well, coach Danny Hay would have been disappointed to fall behind so early on but must have been pleased with the response as New Zealand went down the other end and looked to equalise immediately.
Again it was Mata and Just at the heart of the move, the former making progress on the left and cutting the ball back for Just, whose low strike was blocked by a defender. As the action swung from end to end, goalscorer Kutucu turned provider to find Malik Karaahmet, who tried to catch out Clark with a looping header but the Kiwi custodian showed good balance to gather the ball without carrying it over the line.
As the heavy rain continued to fall, New Zealand began to grow into the game and finished the half strongly. With Mata, Just and Charles Spragg proving a handful, Hay’s side created a couple of chances, both coming from the pin-point set piece delivery of Leon van den Hoven.
The midfielder showed an uncanny ability to drop his corner kicks right on the six-yard box and Spragg got his head to the first of these but couldn’t direct his header under the cross bar. Clark was then called into action at the other end to beat away a powerful Kutucu shot before a van den Hoven corner again caused problems. It was Mata on the end of it this time, firstly to win a header and then trying to force the ball home at the second attempt but the Turkey defence managed to scramble clear.
New Zealand began the second half more strongly than they had the first and had a penalty appeal waved away after Matthew Conroy went down in the box. But Turkey then came close to extending their lead, Clark throwing out his right hand to make a brilliant reaction save to deny skipper Recep Gul.
Hay’s men were becoming the dominant side though and soon had the equaliser their efforts richly deserved, Just showing good awareness to take a free kick quickly and play it into the path of Mata, who finished calmly to make it 1-1 just before the hour mark. Seconds later, Mata was again at the heart of the action after being involved in a physical encounter in the area. He strongly appealed for a penalty but New Zealand’s claims were again turned down.
The New Zealand captain continued to be a central figure, heading a Just free kick over the bar in the 72nd minute being teeing up an opportunity for Spragg, chesting a long throw into his path for the striker to volley narrowly over the cross bar with just over 15 minutes remaining.
That proved to be the Kiwis’ last chance as Turkey finished strongly and they were again indebted to the impressive Clark, who made a vital stop in the 86th minute to keep out a low drive from Kerem Kesgin and make sure his side would secure at least a point.
What would have been a pleasing evening for Hay ended on a sour note though as Mata picked up a second booking with one of the last acts of the game and was therefore dismissed, meaning New Zealand will be without the services of their talismanic skipper for Monday’s clash with Paraguay.
New Zealand 1 (Max Mata 58’)
Turkey 1 (Ahmed Kutucu 18’)
New Zealand: 12. Jacob Clark (GK), 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Boyd Curry, 6. Leon van den Hoven, 7. Elijah Just, 9. Max Mata (c), 11. Matthew Conroy, 14. Kingsley Sinclair (10. Willem Ebbinge), 15. Ben Deeley, 18. Charles Spragg (17. Matthew Palmer 81’), 20. Emlyn Wellsmore
Substitutes not used: 1. Zac Jones (GK), 2. Liam Moore, 3. Joshua Rogerson, 8. Oliver Duncan, 13. Matthew Jones, 16. Oliver Whyte, 19. Kieran Richards, 21. Nicholas Milner (GK)
Cautions: Max Mata 60’, Boyd Curry 82’
Red card: Max Mata 90’ + 5’
Coach: Danny Hay