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Monday, July 15, 2024

Scorpions lose to New Zealand

Scorpions lose to New Zealand

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New Zealand’s talisman Chris Wood grabbed a goal in each half,as the All Whites beat Gambia in Dubai yesterday. The friendly was set up to help Gambia prepare for the Afcon in Cameroon this January.

It wasn’t so long ago that New Zealand wins over non-Oceania opposition were rare and occasional, now they have had three in the space of five weeks, after the victories over Curacao and Bahrain last month.

It wasn’t a perfect performance, with the passing and movement not always reaching the levels on display in October, but that showed how much expectations have grown with this current New Zealand crop.

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The Gambia boasted plenty of players at strong European clubs, but struggled to get a foothold in the match, as the All Whites were well organised and mostly shut down their danger-men.

The Scorpions might not be in the top echelon of African teams but are still tough opposition, like most from that continent.

Ranked 147 on FIFA’s list, they showed their respect for New Zealand (111) with a defensive game plan, but were regularly undone, especially in the second half.

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Sarpreet Singh again underlined his importance to this New Zealand team, with his creative flair and ability to find space, part of an impressive midfield trio with Joe Bell and Marko Stamenic.

Captain Winston Reid got through 56 minutes, while Wood’s ongoing dedication to the cause – despite his heavy-duty Premier League commitments in England – were rewarded with two more goals.

The first was opportunist, in the right place to deflect Bell’s shot goalwards, while the second was a neat left footed finish after rounding the keeper.

Wood now has 27 goals in full internationals, only two short of Vaughan Coveny’s all-time New Zealand record.

Reid made his first appearance since the Tokyo Olympics – and first All Whites start for almost two years, since the match against Ireland in Dublin in November 2019, which marked Danny Hay’s first game in charge, in a 4-3-3 formation

From the outset New Zealand were comfortable on the ball, as the African side were content to sit deep, then counter attack on the break.

It a significant contrast to the matches against Curacao and Bahrain – who pressed intermittently – and meant plenty of time in possession for the All Whites. But it also presented another challenge, with more congestion in the final third.

There were early chances to Marko Stamenic and Eli Just, but the main threat was down the right flank.

Twice in a matter of minutes, neat interplay created space for Joey Champness, but the winger wasn’t accurate enough with his crosses to find a lurking Wood, to the frustration of the Burnley striker.

Singh was at the heart of most of the best moments, with his ability to turn and find space in tight areas, and tested the keeper with a curling effort, but for much of the first half the attack wasn’t as crisp as we had seen in October.

There were further chances, with a Nando Pijnaker header cleared off the line and a left foot volley from Reid, both from corners, but generally New Zealand couldn’t find the right tempo with their passing.

It needed to be a shade quicker against the massed Gambian defence, to open up more space in behind. Wood was barely involved for much of the half, but again exhibited his poachers’ instinct in the 36th minute.

A New Zealand corner was only half cleared and Bell’s side foot effort was going wide, before Wood, with his back to goal, neatly backheeled the ball inside the far post.

The Gambia’s best chance fell to experienced defender Omar Colley, who directed his header straight at Stefan Marinovic. Marinovic was otherwise unemployed in the first half, apart from a long-range strike from FC Bologna striker Musa Barrow.

There was an immediate response from the Scorpions after the break, with a period of sustained pressure. Their best opportunity forced Marinovic into a point blank save at his near post, as the All Whites lost some defensive shape for a period.

But New Zealand regained their control, with Singh becoming increasingly influential as the game stretched out. After a couple of range finders, the German-based midfielder produced a peach of ball to set Wood away, threaded between two defenders.

The 29-year-old Burnley striker rounded keeper Baboucarr Gaye, then finished with aplomb from a narrow angle in the 64th minute.

From there it was about game management, with Tommy Smith joining Michael Boxall – who had replaced Reid – in a central back three.

Wood had a couple of further opportunities, directing a right foot effort wide in the 70th minute, then hitting the post after his shot beat Gaye.

Stamenic also had a chance, while Gambian forward Bubaccar Trawally dragged a late shot wide when it looked easier to score, after being picked out at the far post.

Hay emptied his bench in the closing stages, with Kelvin Kalua, Callum McCowatt and debutant Frances De Vries introduced.


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