Photo Credit: Pakawich Damrongkiattisak – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

OFC U-17 Champions New Zealand struggled in their opening fixture at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup against Venezuela, going down 3-0 in Bandung.

The South Americans, who finished fourth in the CONMEBOL U-17 Championship earlier this year, were appearing in only their second ever FIFA U-17 World Cup but looked at ease in the early stages, holding possession and dictating terms as the Kiwis looked to gain a foothold.

Anaru Cassidy had the first shot in anger for New Zealand but his effort from outside the area flew over Jorge Sanchez’s crossbar in the Venezuela goal.

On the 17 minute mark the Kiwis almost took the lead against the run of play. Matt D’Hotman’s excellent volley at the back post was turned away well by Sanchez following good play on the right-hand side by Luke Supyk.

Goalkeeper Matt Foord, who had been an influential presence in New Zealand’s successful OFC U-17 Championship campaign, made two smart saves in quick succession to keep the scores level, denying Venezuela captain David Martinez on both occasions.

There was no denying Martinez just before the half hour mark however. A defensive mix-up between Foord and defender Noah DuPont when attempting to deal with an innocuous through pass saw the ball drop to Martinez, who took advantage to accurately find the unguarded net from 25 yards.

Foord was called upon again with only a few minutes remaining in the opening period. Palming away a rasping drive from Giovanny Sequera to ensure the score remained 1-0 at the interval.

The second 45 minutes followed a similar pattern with Venezuela enjoying much of the possession and territorial advantage though struggling to break down New Zealand.

Matt Foord was again called into action in the 56th minute, getting down low to deny Sequera’s low drive as the South Americans searched for the killer blow.

Leenhan Romero – brought off the bench by Head Coach Ricardo Valino at half-time to replace goalscorer Martinez – almost found that crucial second but his header flashed wide after getting on the end of an excellent cross from Luis Balbo.

At the other end , New Zealand searched but struggled to do much in the way of testing Sanchez. Stoke City’s Adam Watson going close with a free-kick from the edge of the area that just dipped over the crossbar.

The equaliser wasn’t to materialise for the Kiwis and with three minutes of the 90 remaining, Venezuela killed the game off. A loose pass from goalkeeper Foord allowed Romero to race onto a through ball and the substitute calmly flicked the ball past the on-rushing stopper to make it 2-0.

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues almost grabbed a late consolation for his side but having rounded goalkeeper Sanchez was denied by an outstanding recovery block by Pablo Ibarra.

Eleven minutes of added time was indicated by the fourth official and it was in the seventh of those that Venezuela added their third. Leenhan Romero grabbing his second with a expertly side-footed effort, low into the far corner.

The Kiwis must now dust themselves off as they prepare for their second group stage match against Germany on Wednesday.

Venezuela: 3 (David MARTINEZ 29′, Leenhan ROMERO 87′, 90+7′)
New Zealand: 0

HT: 1-0