There is no much to celebrate from All Whites European tour

After 525 days without action New Zealand Football national team got back to play in two friendly matches in Europe. The All Whites faced Ireland in Dublin and Lithuania in Vilnius. An interesting squad called up by the new coach Danny Hay with some possible debutants in the national team creating a lot of expectations for the Oceania football fans.

In their first match four players made their debut: Joe Bell, Callum McCowatt and Elijah Just starting the game and the striker Elliot Collier coming as replacement in the second half. The most happy of them was McCowatt. After a very good setup play scored the unique goal of New Zealand in the both matches and his first at international level.

Callum McCowatt goal against Ireland

New Zealand has shown positive signs in the match with a strong starting eleven – probrably the best they could play against Ireland in that day. Despite doing a strong first half, New Zealand defense was challenged in certain moments and made Stefan Marinovic to stop some shots. The unique finish he could not prevent to find his nets was the Derrick Williams header at the end of the first half. The Blackburn Rovers defender was not well marked inside the box and equalized the match before the break.

In the beginning of the second half Ryan Thomas had a very decent shot that was saved the opposition goalkeeper, but minutes later New Zealand would allow the Preston North End midfielder Sean Maguire to finish with quality finding the top corner of All Whites goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.

The second half also saw some substitutions made by Danny Hay: Elliot Collier debuted, Andre de Jong had a chance to play and Bill Tuiloma was introduced in the half-time to replaced Winston Reid that is still recovering from his past injuries.

Reid is still recovering from injury

New Zealand after conceding the second goal turned eager to find an equalizer and left many spaces for the Irish counter attacks. Despite creating some interesting chances, especially with the wonderkid Sarpreet Singh, it was the Sheffield United forward Callum Robinson that could find the target with a free-header inside the box. The 24-year old English Premier League scored the third goal for Ireland in the 75th minute of play and also created many problems for the Kiwi defense – including forcing Stefan Marinovic to a world class stop to avoid a fourth goal.

Elliot Collier also almost scored in his debut – he penetrated the opposition box and received a magnificent pass by Sarpreet Singh, but his shot was stopped by Irish goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara.

Despite not showing their full force against New Zealand, the majority of the Irish team played in English first two top-tiers – a quality the team from Oceania surely does not have. The coach Danny Hay stated after the match he was pleased with many aspects of the game, especially for a team that trained only two days together.

The next challenge for New Zealand was a great opportunity to secure a rare win against an UEFA nation – in history, the All Whites just won three times an European football nation. Lithuania national football team last win was in March, 2018 and the previous week they were hammered by the European powerhouse Portugal by 6-0. The Lithunians just draw one match in the Qualifiers for UEFA European Championship against Luxembourg and lost all remaining matches in the group.

New Zealand also could not play with their full force against Lithuania: Chris Wood, Winston Reid and Ryan Thomas, the three most important players of New Zealand, were sent back to their respective teams due injury concerns. The LFF Stadium in Vilnius has astro turf and their clubs were worried about the possibility of a new injury for the three players that recently suffered being away from pitch due this reason.

Wood was not available to face Lithuania

The starting lineup of New Zealand for this match had also a debutant: the Willem II defender James McGarry that started as a left back. The striker Max Mata and defender Nando Pijnaker also made their debut entering in the second half.

Danny Hay played a different team for this match – a total diferent starting eleven in comparison to the previous match against Ireland. The goalscorer of the New Zealand side in that game, Callum McCowatt, did not play due request of his club Wellington Phoenix.

Marco Rojas was back to the starting eleven and seemed the most dangerous player of the All Whites in the first half. He created a very good chance that was saved by Lithuanian goalkeeper after a powerful header of New Zealand captain for the match Tommy Smith.

Andre de Jong also had a golden opportunity after goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus give away the ball; he dribbled the defender and with the stopper out of his nets his shot was above the bar.

New Zealand had a lot of trouble to deal with Legia Warsaw winger Arvydas Novikovas: the skilfull player was too much for the young James McGarry to hold and created many opportunities there were wasted by himself or some of his teammates, as Fedor Cernych.

Despite not scoring early, Lithuania looked dangerous in many parts of the first half – as New Zealand also threatened the opposition especially through the efforts of Marco Rojas. At the ending of the first half, a shot by the tallented Novikovas could not be stopped by Michael Woud that was surprised by the Lithuanian; the New Zealanders allowed speace for the forward that plays his club football in one of the most important tems of Poland. Lithuania scored and hold the lead – going for the break upfront in the scoreboard.

With the additions of Joe Bell and Sarpreet Singh in the half time, New Zealand looked more creative in the second half. Singh and Bell gave more mobility to the midfield than Ridenton and Rufer, players who they took the spot in the final half.

Despite of the New Zealand changes, it was Michael Woud, the young Kiwi goalkeeper, that needed to stop the best chance of the second half – once again the feet of Arvydas Novikovas in an one-on-one situation inside the box.

Sarpreet Singh had a very good run in the midfield, passed one defender and finished wide. It was the closest New Zealand could get to find the goal they needed to equalize. Lithuania was despair to grab a win after so many time without that feeling; the coach Valdas Urbonas introduced more defensive power to hold the creative players of New Zealand and result was the success of his strategy not allowing much space for the Oceanians. An uninspired night for New Zealand ended up with one more defeat, this time for Lithuania by 1-0.

After the match, Lithuanian football channels stated their relief to finally get back to the winning days, thanking their fans for the supporting in the stadium. The coach Danny Hay said the opposition side was really hungry to grab a win against an experimental team of New Zealand; “I think we’ll come out of this with a very clear idea of how to move forward”, says the All Whites head coach to New Zealand football media.

The words of Hay are hopeful but New Zealand was surely a better team than Lithuania – what did not happen in the pitch in the game against the local side. The Lithuanians lost matches to teams such Luxembourg and Estonia in their winless period – which just can not be different than displaying a red allert for New Zealand football.

Although without their English Premier League players and Thomas that is currently at Dutch Eredivisie for this match, New Zealand had enough quality to challenge, play well and win the Lithuanians. The match against Ireland was a different story – New Zealand could have a better result if really had Kosta Barbarouses and trained for more days with that quality of football displayed in the match.

New Zealand and Oceania football fans expect to see the All Whites more active in the next months and using the young tallents they could produce that represented very well the nation in the recent FIFA U20 Wold Cup. The expectations on Danny Hay are also big; he could manage Eastern Suburbs to break Auckland City and Team Wellington dominance in the last edition of ISPS Handa Premiership season and his side played a very entertaining football to win league. The fans hope to see something similar of that Eastern Suburbs coached by Hay now in national team.

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