All Whites 0
The All Whites’ search of a goal continues.
It’s been almost a year since the New Zealand men’s football team last found the back of the net – a 5-0 win over the Solomon Islands. Since then, they have created chances but struggled to apply the final touches.
That trend continued against China at Mt Smart Stadium tonight. While the All Whites had the bulk of possession and were being allowed to play the game at the right end of the pitch, they were held to a 0-0 draw; their sixth straight match without scoring.
For all the dominance they had in the first half, being able to hold on for a draw will no doubt please interim head coach Darren Bazeley in his first game at the helm after captain Tommy Smith, in his 50th appearance, was sent off after taking out a Chinese attacker when he was the last defender.
There were no complaints from the New Zealand captain, who seemed resigned to his fate after a mix-up between he and goalkeeper Oli Sail as to who would collect a pass that fell between them. That saw the hosts have to see out the final 25 minutes a man down.
There were promising signs for the All Whites, but the absence of star striker Chris Wood, who is nursing an injury, was felt throughout the opening half in particular. A number of times the side could have created real opportunities had one of their strikers been instinctively following in their teammates’ shots or running aggressive lines at the back post in the hope of picking off a fumble from the opposition goalkeeper, but instead held their run.
The All Whites were dominant in the opening half hour as China sat back in defence and welcomed the New Zealand side to attack. The Chinese side held their defensive shape well, however, and forced the All Whites to attack largely down the edges and send in hopeful crosses.
There were definite goal-scoring opportunities they went astray in that period, the best of which fell at the feet of otherwise impressive forward Matthew Garbett. After pouncing on a loose ball to get into the box unmarked, the 20-year-old weighed up his options with two teammates lurking in the middle before taking on a shot from a tight angle and sending it wide.
While they had the bulk of possession and territory, the All Whites were lucky to not go into the break trailing. China began to show more on attack in the latter stages of the half, and forced an impressive reflexive save from Sail with a good shot from close range.
When play resumed for the second half, it was again the visitors who had the best chance; this time Sail making himself big in the pathway of a Wu Lei shot to send it away.
He was unemployed for most of the first half, but as the game went on, Sail found himself tested more and more; Smith’s exit from the match opening the door for China to attack with a bit more freedom.
Ultimately, both sides kept clean sheets and will now turn their attention to their next meeting in Wellington on Sunday afternoon.