All Whites have the need for some real speed
It doesn’t take long before you hear the ssshhhhing of knives being sharpened. A couple of average performances by the All Whites in their Confederations Cup warm-up matches, followed by a poor one against Russia at the tournament, and suddenly all the potential shown just a few months ago was forgotten.
It didn’t help that coach Anthony Hudson had talked his team up, saying ‘‘I wouldn’t like to play us.’’
Russia didn’t seem to mind playing us. In fact, they liked it a lot.
New Zealand’s performance was even worse than the 0-2 result, a long-ball display so archaic that Fifa President Infantino must have wondered how to stop the visigoths from gaining entry to future parties. Second game up though, against Mexico, Hudson’s team were transformed.
For the first half they played with a passion, intensity and style that many All Whites fans haven’t seen before and Mexico couldn’t handle.
OK, so teams attempting to hustle technically better teams out of their stride invariably employ a physical approach, and Andrew Durante, knowing how the Mexicans love their wrestling, greeted striker Peralta with a forearm smash that grappler Black Shadow would have been proud of after just 75 seconds.
But generally the All Whites kept it clean, despite the tantrums of the Mexican coaching staff, and when they took the lead it was not via route one or a set piece, but a beautifully weighted pass by Clayton Lewis for Chris Wood to bury.
That one pass alone marks Lewis as a talent who will serve New Zealand well for years.
For a brief period after going ahead, the All Whites found a gear that made Mexico look like the side ranked 95th in the world.
It didn’t last. After halftime Mexico played a level as yet out of New Zealand’s reach, their sudden superiority reflected by two fine goals. The floodgates threatened to open.
But the Kiwis regrouped. With no choice but to go forward, they did so and the match became one of the best spectacles an All Whites team has ever played in.
Ryan Thomas’ boyish face looks like it should be on a box of Milo or Fruit Loops, but he was scaring the daylights out of the Mexicans.
First his powerful shot was blocked, then he whipped one against a post, then he was in the thick of the action when emotions spilled over into chaos near the end. An unseemly fracas?
Not at all. The All Whites had invested so much emotion in the match that when Mexico’s Reyes were reduced to a cheap foul to halt Mike Boxall, any loss of control was not only understandable, it was inevitable.
There are no prizes for second but if ever there was victory in defeat it was in this match.
Hudson tells us the All Whites can win in Russia, and they had one more chance today, against Portugal.
They will have played with organisation, passion, possibly flair, but unfortunately not the quality our teams have always lacked. Pace.
How Hudson would love to have fliers like Mexico’s wingers Aquino and Damm.
If our leaders are serious about improving football in this country they need to attract future generations of speed merchants to the sport.
Chris Wood and the All Whites have shown they can compete with the best with their game against Mexico.