It was a game o two halves for both teams.
Turkey and New Zealand drew 1-1 in the opening game of Group B in the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. Ahmed Kutucu gave the Turks the lead in the 18th minute only for the impressive Max Mata to level just before the hour mark.
The crowd trickled in throughout the game as it was a working day and the rains didn’t help one bit. It was felt that the teams’ acclimatization to the heat of the western coast of India had surely gone to waste.
New Zealand opted to play a high pressing version of the 4-2-3-1 while Turkey maintained a fluid backline of three defenders who were more compact than their counterparts. Turkey looked like a team out to win the game and the hearts of the crowd with a creative display and an intense attacking threat. New Zealand on the other hand, seemed to be more interested in a counter-attacking style. Although, they did try to build from the back at times they were rarely successful in doing so.
Watch New Zealand 1-1 Turkey highlights
The chances came aplenty for both sides but New Zealand seemed to be the ones gaining the upper hand. Turkey’s defense held out and their midfielders were often engaged in pushing their strikers upfront. This paid off when Turkey gained a corner in the 18th minute which was taken by Kerem Kesgin. Kerem provided a wonderful ball just outside the penalty area which was headed straight in with the speed of a bullet by Ahmed Kutucu giving the diving goalkeeper no chance to stop the ball.
New Zealand didn’t seem unnerved by this attack and chose to consistently test the Turkish defense. In the 22nd minute Max Mata created a wonderful chance for Elijah Just who failed to capitalize on the opportunity and shot on to the onrushing defender.
New Zealand composed themselves and played the more patient game after this while Turkey were visibly more franetic. The All Whites were technically brilliant in midfield but were woeful in the final third. Even in front of goal they seemed to be nervy when a 40th minute clearance by the goalkeeper was tackled by a Turkish attacker who played the ball to the No. 9, Malik Kharaahmet, who crossed close to the grass, handing the ball over to the onrushing Kutucu who shot brilliantly only to be denied by a reflex save of the All Whites Keeper Jacob Clark.
The half ended with both teams trying profusely to take a little more to the dressing room to avoid a dressing down from the coaches after having missed a host of chances. But this never happened and at the whistle the score stood in favour of the young Turks 1-0.
The second half kicked off a bit defensively as Turkey seemed comfortable with their lead, while New Zealand pressed on for the equalizer. The All Whites came close but nothing had changed in terms of their lack of quality in the final third. Although, a big change was observed in the rhythm of the game. New Zealand were now the aggressors while Turkey were the patient counter-attackers.
Turkey’s one such counter produced a magnificent chance when the marauding winger Kutucu brilliantly found his captain Recep Gul who shot hard but mistook the goalkeeper for the net. This proved to be a costly miss as New Zealand played a smart move from a subsequent free-kick. The free-kick was a through-ball by Elijah Just which surprised the defenders and Max Mata made the most of it by brilliantly scoring past a stunned goalkeeper in the form of Berke Ozer on 58 minutes.
Mata continued the onslaught with his team pushing hard but the adrenaline got the better of him and his dissent towards the referee earned him a yellow. After this, we had the first ever pitch invasion in this edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup when a dog entered the field of play and had to be chased away by multiple volunteers.
Turkey made changes right away and replaced the tiring forwards Kutucu and Kharaahmet and made like-for-like changes in the form of Embiya Ayyildiz and Yunus Akgun. This had very little impact as Turkey’s shift to a back four seemed to have slowed down the tempo of the game where even the most energetic moves by them failed to make any nerves shiver for the New Zealanders.
Kingsley Sinclair came close to scoring for them from a throw-in but it flew marginally over the crossbar. Mata continued to lead his team by example and piled on the pressure on the opposition.
Matthew Conroy broke away in the 83rd minute and charged almost 60 yards before giving the ball to Matthew Palmer who cut in Just. The ball agonizingly hit the post and the move broke down.
Turkey seemed to have lost all momentum as it increasingly seemed that New Zealand were the more dominant team. In the four minute of added time Mata picked up a second yellow and received his marching orders as the game ended all square.
Paraguay edge 5-goal thriller against Mali
In the other match of the day, the previous edition’s finalist, Mali took on Paraguay in the second Group B encounter. Paraguay struck early in the match with a blinder of a shot from outside the 18- -yard box which went straight into the goal nearly piercing the net. This was quickly followed by Leonardo Sanchez doubling the lead with a shot in the 17th minute from a super tight angle beating the goalkeeper while the shot rolled into the goal. The Central African boys pulled one back with a close range sonic blast into the goal in the 20th minute by Hadji Drame.
The score was all level in not time after a barrage on the Paraguayan goal by Mali as in the 34th minute of the game Lassana Ndiaye scored another scorcher leaving poor Diego Huesca stunned and saddened. In the second half the goal flow did not stop as Alan Rodriguez stepped up in the 55th to blast a penalty past the keeper who had guessed the right way but that’s all he could do.
The match ended in a 3-2 win for the Paraguayan stars and the only consolation that Mali got was that the crowd relentlessly sang their name, cheering them on even when they were on the receiving end of things.
The day’s results see Paraguay leading the way in Group B with three points while New Zealand and Turkey have a point each. Mali have a bit of catching up to do with tonight’s defeat.