29 May 2017

Under 20 footballers qualify for round of 16

8:14 am on 29 May 2017

New Zealand has qualified for the last 16 at the Fifa under 20 men's football World Cup in South Korea, progressing out of pool play on foreign soil for the first ever time.

New Zealand footballer Myer Bevan.

New Zealand footballer Myer Bevan. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The New Zealanders were beaten 2-nil by tournament favourites France in their final group match.

New Zealand however already gave themselves a great chance of going through by earlier drawing with Vietnam and sweeping aside Honduras.

That proved to be the case as Honduras defeated Vietnam 2-0 in the other Group E match, allowing New Zealand to finish second and contemplate a Round of 16 tie on Thursday against the top finisher in Group F.

Taking on France, who led the group with a perfect record, was made even tougher when the services of captain Clayton Lewis and key defender Dane Ingham no longer became available.

The talented pair were both named in the senior All Whites squad for the upcoming pre-Confederations Cup tour and were therefore withdrawn so they could link up with Anthony Hudson's men.

Darren Bazeley brought in Wellington Phoenix academy products Sarpreet Singh and Jack-Henry Sinclair, while Phoenix professional Logan Rogerson replaced Noah Billingsley up front and Moses Dyer took the captain's armband.

Knowing his side might not need to go all-out for the win, Bazeley would have been tempted to adopt a cautious approach but New Zealand instead tore out of the blocks, pinning a much-changed France line-up back in their own half during an inspired opening quarter of an hour.

The Kiwis nearly earned due reward for their adventurous start in the fifth minute when James McGarry curled a phenomenal ball into the France box and Myer Bevan connected well with his header, only to see goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni make an outstanding save.

Several other dangerous situations were then created as New Zealand continued to stun France by piling on the pressure while Michael Woud made a brilliant stop - the first of a series that ran throughout the match - at the other end to maintain the clean sheet.

France then underlined the level of talent at their disposal as the prodigiously-gifted Allan Saint-Maximin took control of the contest.

The first of his two strikes arrived against the run of play in the 22nd minute.

It was a contender for goal of the tournament but Saint-Maximin then produced an even better effort shortly before the break, finding the far corner over Woud from a seemingly impossible angle.

Bazeley must have feared a blow-out in the second half but his side continued to compete well with their more illustrious rivals.

A heroic man-of-the-match performance from Sunderland custodian Woud was keeping New Zealand in the game while Myer Bevan, Sarpreet Singh and Logan Rogerson all came close at the other end.

New Zealand were well-deserving of a goal but were not made to pay for those missed opportunities and will now turn their attention to creating more history on Thursday evening.