The New Zealand U-20 men have secured a passage into the knockout stages of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in stunning style, midfielder Gianni Stensness netting one of the best goals ever scored by a Kiwi on the global stage to help his side to a 2-0 win over Norway.
The Oceania champions enjoyed the better of an encounter that was tight and evenly-contested for the most part but had to wait until midway through the second half to finally make a well-deserved breakthrough at Lodz Stadium in Poland.
After some neat interplay broke down, a loose ball came out to midfielder Stensness just outside the area and he unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner to place one foot into the Round of 16 for his country.
That job was completed 12 minutes later when Liberato Cacace – again hugely impressive in his role as a marauding left fullback – stormed into the box and found Elijah Just, whose cross was turned in by an unfortunate defender as New Zealand forced an own goal for the second time at this tournament.
Stensness admitted he couldn’t quite believe it when his sweetly-struck effort ripped into the net.
“I was sitting on the edge of the box and it kind of just popped out to me – it looked so attractive so I just hit it,” he said.
“I was going for the top bins and you never really expect those to go in but I just hit that one perfectly. It was just a dream from there, it didn’t really feel real when I was running off celebrating.”
The goal had been a long time coming for New Zealand, who shaded the possession stakes in the first half and earned a string of corners but both sides struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
The best moment of the opening half arrived midway through when Cacace went on a characteristic run forward and sent a low drive towards goal but his effort was palmed away.
Knowing their own chances of progressing hung on today’s outcome, Norway had a couple of sights at goal through striker Erling Haland but couldn’t take advantage and were made to pay when Stensness made a hero of himself.
It’s the first time New Zealand have opened an U-20 World Cup campaign with back-to-back wins and they are now topping Group C on goal difference over Uruguay, who they meet in their final pool match on Friday morning (NZT).
Coach Des Buckingham was delighted to get the better of Norway, whose class was earlier underlined in preventing defending champions England from qualifying.
“Norway are a fantastic team and knocked the current World Cup holders out of this competition so it’s hugely pleasing and we’ll enjoy it,” he said.
“We’ve worked very hard over the last three weeks to put a game plan together and they’ve stuck to it fantastically well. But it’s important we now focus on the third game and we might have a chance to freshen things up.”