FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Oceanic giants New Zealand getting used to life as underdogs after losing practice games

They are continental champions. Once they start coasting, there's no stopping them.

Ever since Australia left the Oceania Football Association (OFC) to join Asian Confederation (AFC), their neighbours New Zealand have become a force to reckon with. For example, in the final of the OFC U-17 Championship earlier this year, the Kiwis lifted their sixth successive continental title with a crushing 7-0 win over New Caledonia in the final. On the top of that, they just conceded two goals in the entire tournament.

What's interesting is that it wasn't just the final where they coasted. The matches en route to the summit clash had seen New Zealand pummel Samoa 11-0 and trounce the tiny island of Fiji 5-0. Moreover, the Kiwis bagged all the awards on offer too. If this doesn't tell you how deadly they are in their backyard, nothing will.

New Zealand played Brazil in a warm-up match at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday. New Zealand Football

New Zealand played Brazil in a warm-up match at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday. New Zealand Football

However, the Turks are learning that the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup will be a different ball game altogether. While Brazil dominated for the major part of the warm-up game at the Mumbai Football Arena (MFA) on Thursday, the Kiwis were lucky they did not concede more. Despite being under pressure, the still managed to get a consolation goal towards the end of the match and the score read 2-1 before the 5-4 practice shootout. "They have a strong style of play, a very physical one. They all were physical players and we were already advised about that," said Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu at the post-match conference.

It was evident how the 'Young Whites' squandered their lead twice against a strong England side on Sunday at the same venue. Though it was yet another practice match, they were at gunpoint despite a brilliant start. Similar to the result against Brazil, New Zealand could have nicked a draw but they failed to deliver the goods when it mattered the most. Perhaps, they were getting used to living life as underdogs going into the competition.

New Zealand's Max Mata (L) fights to win the ball from the defender. Credits: New Zealand Football

New Zealand's Max Mata (L) fights to win the ball from the defender. Credits: New Zealand Football

Interestingly, this was the first time they played quality opponents. Teams like New Caledonia and Samoa have amateurs or semi-professionals playing for the U-17 and national men's team. So, the level of competition is debatable.

“This is the first time we are getting exposed to two quality teams that we have played in two years now. And the way boys showed heart in both the games is commendable. We could have drawn both the games, but playing against two quality sides and getting this results (sic) is also a positive. Hopefully, with few days to go, we would work on our game,” New Zealand coach Danny Hay told reporters at the post-match interaction.

The Kiwi coach also stressed on the fact that his side may not be the favourites when the teams will be announced before the start of matches at the forthcoming world event. "On paper, we might not appear strong but we are organised, we work hard and when we do take our chances when were get them,“ Hay explained.

So, the performance against Brazil and England should set alarm bells ringing in the New Zealand camp. A drastic change was visible in their approach towards both the matches. The once-cruising New Zealand were outplayed not once but twice and Hay believes that it is the mentality of his players that need to be better against some of the top sides in the world.

"It is going to be frustrating to see us losing the game after leading, but that's something the players got to learn from. We went up 1-0 and then mentally we switch off, thinking that 'oh, we are playing England' but that's not going to be the case. I mean you've got to be strong, our mentality needs to be strong. We switched off and that shouldn't happen against such teams. It's all about the mentality on the pitch," Hay concluded.

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 22:25 PM

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