The Junior All Whites face a nervous wait to see if they will progress to the knockout stages at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup, after being thrashed 5-0 by host nation Argentina this morning.
Darren Bazeley’s team were outclassed, as the South Americans managed a staggering 30 attempts on goal, without a single shot in reply.
That outcome means New Zealand finish third in group A, after Uzbekistan disposed of Guatemala 2-0 in the other match.
Any chance of qualification will now hinge on the Junior All Whites finishing as one of the four best third-placed teams across the six groups, with eight pool matches still to be played.
New Zealand have four points, which should be enough, though their goal difference of -4 will hurt.
There are numerous possible permutations, with the most likely tickets coming from France avoiding defeat against Honduras in Group F or Senegal failing to beat Colombia in Group C.
Today was a footballing lesson, as Argentina took control after two early goals. It was always going to be near mission impossible and undoubtedly one of the most intimidating environments a New Zealand side has faced at any Fifa tournament, with a heaving crowd in San Juan.
The gulf in class was clear but no surprise.
Argentina’s team is drawn from clubs like Boca Juniors, River Plate, Manchester City, Lazio, Inter Milan, Juventus, Sporting Lisbon and Barcelona while five of New Zealand’s squad play at amateur local clubs, with another eight at the Wellington Phoenix.
And Argentina were red hot, irresistible once they got into their flow, while New Zealand looked a notch down, after physical efforts against Guatemala and Uzbekistan.
The Junior All Whites made a reasonable start, but once the hosts clicked into gear after 10 minutes could barely get a foothold.
They also missed playmaker Jay Herdman, a surprise omission from the starting lineup.
Argentina registered a remarkable 866 passes – with 94 per cent completed – compared with New Zealand’s 278, while the corner count was 11-0.
Bazeley admitted it was a “great learning curve”, while midfielder Finn Conchie gave an honest assessment.
“They were a bit of a different class,” Conchie told Fifa TV. “Credit to them, they are amazing players.”
New Zealand never looked comfortable but the first goal was still a poor concession.
The Junior All Whites switched off after a short corner routine, allowing striker Maestro Puch a free header.
Goalkeeper Kees Sims, who was otherwise outstanding, was caught out of position, as the cross drifted way over his head, then no one tracked the run of Puch.
It got worse just three minutes later, with Argentina capitalising on a quick transition.
After defender Jackson Jarvie lost possession, Gino Infantino produced a ruthless finish.
New Zealand were understandably shell-shocked, as the already fanatical crowd went to another level.
Argentina were knocking on the door, before Luka Romero’s stunning strike in the 35th minute. It was a goal of the tournament contender, as he twisted away from two opponents near halfway, then lashed home from 25 metres, with a brutal dipping shot into the top corner, as defenders hung off.
Argentina didn’t need any help from the officials – but got some just after halftime, with a generous penalty decision.
After a VAR check, the Qatari referee found a deliberate handball by defender Aaryan Raj.
It looked a harsh call, given the ball cannoned into him from close range. Winger Brian Aguirre converted with aplomb.
Some of the sting went out of the match after that, though Argentina were still profoundly superior.
New Zealand’s effort never stopped, but they were mostly restricted to blind alleys, though substitute Herdman added some quality.
Striker Alejo Veliz completed the rout with a bullet header, after another brilliant cross.
Argentina 5 (Maestro Puch 14, Gino Infantino 17, Luka Romero 35, Brian Aguirre pen 50, Alejo Veliz 87)
Junior All Whites 0