New Zealand have completed their build-up to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Russia with a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Belarus in wet conditions in Minsk this morning.
The match made history as it was the first ‘A’ international between the two sides, after they had previously met at the London Olympics in 2012.
The All Whites were looking for the ideal preparation for the ‘Tournament of Champions’ where they will face hosts Russia in St Petersburg in five days’ time but were left frustrated by a determined performance from Belarus in front of around 2,000 fans.
After an entertaining first half, the home side went ahead in the 46thminute through a superb finish from Dzianis Paliakou at the back post in what proved to be the defining moment of the match.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson made three changes from the team which went down 1-0 to Northern Ireland 10 days ago in Belfast. Shane Smeltz, Themi Tzimopolous and Deklan Wynne all came in for Clayton Lewis, Tommy Smith and Tom Doyle respectively.
Meanwhile, Belarus coach Igor Kriushenko also rang the changes with nine different players from the side that defeated Bulgaria 2-1 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier three nights ago.
The All Whites began the match with real purpose and had a chance to open the scoring after only three minutes. Wing-back Kip Colvey and Marco Rojas combined beautifully down the right flank for the former to deliver a near perfect cross which skipper Chris Wood could not quite get on the end of. The All Whites then continued with their high press on Belarus before the World No 83 side came back into the game.
In the 10th minute, Belarus forward Maksim Skavish was quick to pounce on a loose ball in the All Whites’ back three. He went one-on-one with Stefan Marinovic and tried to chip the goalkeeper from an acute angle but it sailed across the face of goal.
The home side continued to pour forward as they were cheered on by a boisterous crowd. They earned a corner in the 26th minute and Paliakou found space for a free header but Marinovic came up with a good save low to his left.
Three minutes later, Marinovic was again called into action when a deflected shot from Ihar Burko on his left foot was goal bound before the stopper came up with another quality save low to his right. It was a period which underlined the quality of the 25-year-old from German club SpVgg Unterhaching.
While the White Wings had the bulk of the first-half chances, the back three of New Zealand were resolute throughout and the visitors finished the opening 45 minutes with a pair of threatening moments at the other end.
Wood nearly put Marco Rojas into space but the move was called back when the All Whites captain was adjudged to be offside. He then found room in the box on the end of a lofted pass from Andrew Durante but Paliakou quickly shut him down to ensure a scoreless first half.
Belarus poured forward in the second spell and put the All Whites under pressure in their opening move. A deep cross from the right wing sailed over the New Zealand bodies in the box and found Paliakou, who finished off well at the back post.
Soon after, Hudson made a double change with Themi Tzimopoulos making way for holding midfielder Bill Tuiloma and Monty Patterson taking the place of Ryan Thomas.
With the rain pouring down, the All Whites were put under more pressure when Paliakou showed fine skill to head down another corner for Artsiom Bikau to blaze his shot wide.
All Whites forward Kosta Barbarouses entered the game just after the hour and immediately looked to inject pace and purpose down the attacking left side. But Belarus remained impressive going forward and Dzianis Laptseu forced a fine save from Marinovic at his near post in the 68th minute.
Dane Ingham, who turned 18 only a few days ago, came on for his second international cap when he replaced Kip Colvey on the right in the 78th minute. The All Whites created their best moment of the half a few minutes later as Barbarouses was firstly denied at point-blank range in a difficult opportunity before the ball broke for Wood, whose effort was deflected out for a corner.
It was as close to a goal as could be mustered by the All Whites, who travel back to St Petersburg tomorrow to complete their preparations for the FIFA Confederations Cup. They will be appearing in the tournament for a fourth time and will face Russia, Mexico and Portugal.
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football.