All Whites have the need for some real speed

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - Bill Har­ris

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.

GETTY IMAGES

Chris Wood and the All Whites have shown they can com­pete with the best with their game against Mex­ico.

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