Junior All Whites go down swinging against Portugal in U-20 World Cup
Their run is over but the Junior All Whites gave Portugal an almighty scare as they exited the Fifa U-20 World Cup in Hamilton on Thursday night.
Substitute Stuart Holthusen scored a 64th minute equaliser to stun Portugal at Waikato Stadium but the European giants eventually found the winner to beat New Zealand 2-1.
Coach Darren Bazeley sent the team out in a 5-2-1-2 formation, with Bill Tuiloma, Sam Brotherton and Cory Brown playing as three central defenders. Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Moses Dyer were tasked with sweeping in front of the back five with Monty Patterson feeding Alex Rufer and Noah Billingsley up front.
For 10 minutes the formation had Portugal guessing but they soon figured it out thanks to the efforts of Manchester City's Rony Lopes and Sporting CP's Gelson Martins. The two attacking midfielders were causing problems when they ran at the Kiwi defence and picked the right times to release their team-mates behind the back line.
Tuiloma was on hand to repel one foray into the box in the 14th minute, but chances were coming thick and fast for the Europeans.
Lopes fired narrowly wide when he should have found the target 22 minutes in, but moments later Raphael Guzzo gave his side a well deserved lead. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, Guzzo turned past Dyer before firing a right-footed effort low into the far corner.
The Junior All Whites showed more intent to attack after the set back, although they continued to allow far too much time and space to Martins and Lopes in the final third.
When they did push up field Patterson looked a genuine threat, although with too few options in attack he could create little. Billingsley did have a golden chance to fire on goal late in the half, only to slip as he went to hit a volley. New Zealand's wing backs Deklan Wynne and Andrew Blake pressed up the field further in the second half as they searched for an equaliser.
Andre Silva should have doubled Portugal's lead on the hour mark when his open header from three yards looped onto the roof of the net.
Stuart Holthusen was introduced in place of Rufer soon after and he had the crowd rocking with his first touch. After a scrappy collision on the edge of the box between Patterson and Joao Nunes, Holthusen found the ball at his feet and fired over a diving Andre Moreira for the equaliser.
Holthusen went close with another strike five minutes later but sent his shot into the advertising hoardings.
For the next 15 minutes New Zealand had new found confidence in possession and strung sets of passes together as they pushed up field.
Portugal were showing more urgency, Lopes in particular getting the ball at his feet and running straight at New Zealand's centre backs.
With four minutes remaining it was winger Martins who stepped up and produced a sublime finish to hand his side the winning lead.
Dummying to get past one defender, Martins unleashed his shot from the edge of the area, curling the ball with the outside of his foot into the far corner.
"It's disappointing," New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley said after the match. "To have a game like that and come up against a very, very good team in Portugal. To compete and have some possession and have some build up, to not get over-run.
"We had that moment, we scored that goal and we were back in the game. For 10 or 15 minutes the crowd got behind us, but to then concede in the 87th minute… it knocked the stuffing out of us."
Portuguese coach Helio Sousa said when New Zealand scored their goal, sparking the home crowd into life, his team thought it was "great".
"It gave a good feeling to the game. We knew that could happen," Sousa said.
"We have to be strong in this competition and rise above those problems. If we want to stay in this competition, you have to survive those moments in the game. We came back, created more chances."
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