New Zealand U-17 have drawn first blood in their three match friendly international programme against Tahiti.
With both sides reduced to ten men during an ill-tempered match at Waikaraka Park, Onehunga, the Kiwis fought back from a two-goal deficit to secure a 3-2 win.
Tahiti held the upper-hand at halftime after playing some impressive one-touch passing movements that left New Zealand chasing shadows. But it was Tahiti’s desire to play the ball on the deck in tight areas of the pitch that would come back to haunt them later as the mood of the fixture became less technical and more combustible.
The catalyst for this sea-change arrived ten minutes into the second-half when a Tahitian player was sheperding the ball into touch.
Three New Zealand players converged on him resulting in a vicious tackle from behind that left the Tahitian midfield player writhing in agony. The incident occured shortly after a series of lusty and late challenges by players from both teams.
Referee Neil Fox’s decision to produce a red card was totally correct but in the maelstrom and confusion it appeared as if he may have dismissed the wrong player.
New Zealand’s sense of injustice was palpable and as is so often the case in these situations they were galvanised by adversity.
The perceived injustice of Fox’s decision released a previously absent mental and physical energy levels within the New Zealand team.
Moses Petelo – who had missed a couple of good chances in the first-half – found his form in a golden period just after the ordering off and helped himself to a double.
Tahiti’s defensive integrity was on critical as the visitors struggled to cope against New Zealand’s ten men. New Zealand to their credit closed down Tahiti in their own third on numerous occasions winning the ball and, consequently, punishing them.
Tahiti’s temperament soon boiled over as the increasing physical nature of the game threatened to get out of control. A five minute spell of late challenges inevitably led to a red card for the visitors.
Any lingering Tahitian goal threat disappeared along with their midfield lynchpin and there was never a hint that a reduction in personnel would boost their performance as it had done the hosts.
New Zealand created a glut of gilt-edged chances from set-peice and open play but spurned many when it appeared easier to score against flagging opposition.
New Zealand’s traditional threat from set-peices failed to produce a goal through a combination of poor finishing and variable delivery.
A goal, though, always looked in the offing with some erratic non-text book Tahitian goalkeeping holding Kiwi interest.
Corey Chettleburgh became the hero for New Zealand when he struck a superb shot on the turn from distance past a hapless and lead-footed Tahitian defence. Tahiti’s keeper barely moved as the ball whistled past him and into the back of the net.
Tahiti were able to break on the counter-attack occasionally but with the game stretched the Tahitians were unable to get players forward in support with the Kiwi back four picking off any ball played backwards by isolated Tahitian strikers.
By the end, New Zealand looked in total control of the match as the endorphin release from taking the lead boosted confidence levels.
New Zealand goalkeeper coach Mark Oates said New Zealand acquitted themselves better following the red card and paid tribute to the team’s spirit in bouncing back from a two goal deficit.