Ahead of the opening match of Group B, Turkey coach Mehmet Hacioglu was unperturbed with New Zealand's physical style of football. He was confident that the young Turks' technical abilities would overpower the lanky Kiwis. In fact, Turkey had prepared themselves to face all the physical teams in advance with their 'two-step preparation' – the first phase in Qatar and phase two in Navi Mumbai. Little did they know that the Daniel Hay-led All Whites possessed more than just a physical threat.
Turkey's dominance was a treat to watch in the early stages of the first half. From pacey football to showboating skills, the first 10 minutes showcased what they were capable of. At the pre-match press conference on Thursday, Hay had mentioned how the team who adapted quickly, would run away with the win. Turkey appeared to adapt more quickly to the soaking conditions as the rain poured down at the Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. It was as early as the sixth minute when Turkey started to create problems for New Zealand as Atalay Babacan misfired on the rebound.
This was just the beginning. FC Schalke teenager Ahmed Kutucu came close to scoring the opening goal of the tournament but ended up hitting sideways. Interestingly, it was Kutucu who eventually netted the first goal, showing an amazing technique and power to head in a corner. Turkey had issued a reminder of their attacking abilities. The physically strong Kiwis were sloppy at the back, which allowed their Turkish counterparts to cut in from almost every angle. Hacioglu's side not only enjoyed possession but also impressed with the style of football they were playing.
The attacking flair exhibited by Turkey was second to none. One thing that took the spectators by surprise was the way the Turks held the ball in the middle of the park to create openings. A lot has been spoken about modern day football, or in other words, end-to-end football, which makes the game even more interesting. "I watched Manchester City versus Chelsea the other weekend and believe me that was end-to-end. There were opportunities at both the ends and I think that's just the nature of the way football is starting to grow now," Hay told Firstpost.
Call them overconfident or complacent, Turkey tried too much to frustrate the Kiwis, who came out as a totally different side in the second half. Hay advised his players to stay composed despite being a goal down. Although, he remained animated on the touchline. But the complexion of the game changed in no time. The once-firing Turks soon looked fatigued. Hacioglu's young men were hesitant to control the game as the Kiwis hoofed up a barrage of long balls upfront.
It was not about New Zealand's natural style of play anymore. Charles Spragg, Max Mata and Ejiah Just started to prove a handful, combining well to cause a headache to the Turkish defence. This might have come as a shock for Turkey, who rallied for the major part of the first 45 minutes. How can New Zealand break the play and launch a quick counter? Hacioglu, who was unruffled before the game, saw his side struggling to defend. It was not about the physical prowess but an organised unit.
Turkey did come close to extending their lead but the Kiwis looked confident enough to tackle the situation. New Zealand captain Mata was the danger man throughout the second half, tearing apart the opposition defence left, right and centre. Just created chances from the middle. A quick free-kick was all it needed for Hay's young guns to turn the game on its head. Just wasted no time to pass it to Mata, who then slotted home the equaliser just before the hour mark.
One thing that always kept Hacioglu worried was his side's lack of concentration while defending set pieces. "I’m disappointed. I’ve always asked my players not to turn their backs on the ball, and that’s exactly what we’ve gone and done today. It was a lapse in concentration that cost us the chance to win the game," said Hacioglu.
Around the 77th-minute, the Kiwi attacker Just was seen giving instructions to his teammates like a garrulous kid just won't stop talking. The momentum had shifted completely. Hay brought fresh legs on the pitch and guess what, New Zealand came close not once but on multiple occasions to seal the winner. Mata will miss the next match against Paraguay after receiving a second yellow card quite late in the game. Through balls, off-the-ball-runs and quick one-twos unsettled the tired Turks. The Kiwis failed to eke out a win, but they made a statement of intent with a 1-1 draw on a humid, rainy night at Navi Mumbai.
"Nowadays, football is very positive, attack-oriented. Gone are the days of drab nil-nil draws where defences are ruling. It is much about the attacking play and it's great for the neutrals but for me as a coach, it gives you a heart attack every now and then. Defensively, we need to improve a bit where we gift the opposition sides chances. It's been a massive learning curve for us," said Hay.
Well, New Zealand have shown glimpses of their systematic pattern in the warm-up matches against Brazil and England in Mumbai. At the end of the day, when the referee blows his final whistle and the players shake hands, it all boils down to the overall performance.
Updated Date: Oct 08, 2017 01:15 AM