The All Whites — and an Eden Park crowd of 34,985 — farewelled veteran skipper Winston Reid but had to concede defeat to an Australian side much improved from the opening game in their two-match series.
New Zealand lost 2-0 in Sunday’s rematch but showed enterprise and commitment in a homecoming that produced the largest-ever attendance for a friendly international, and the fourth largest crowd for a football match in New Zealand.
The weather was sunny; the crowd supportive and the players looked keen to impress in their first game on home soil since late 2017.
But the Australians hadn’t read the script, and spoiled the homecoming party with a far better performance than Thursday’s 1-0 win in Brisbane.
Using their younger players, the Socceroos had figured out how to disrupt a New Zealand side that was comfortable holding possession and building from the back.
This time, the Aussies applied a gentle press, gradually putting more pressure on as the ball was passed between the Kiwi defenders.
This led to errors or an eventual back pass to goalkeeper Oli Sail who would be forced to boot the ball upfield.
For all that, Australia still couldn’t put together moves that created chances.
At the other end, New Zealand’s Chris Wood was keeping the big Australian backline honest, until the 12th minute when he turned away from a challenge from Thomas Deng, clutching his ribs.
Wood lay on the pitch, awaiting attention, and then gingerly left the field. He returned to the play but looked out of sorts until substituted in the 32nd minute.
The best chance of the first half fell to Melbourne City striker Marco Tilio who was set up by Mitch Duke for what looked like an easy chance in the 42nd minute. Instead of tapping it into an empty New Zealand net, Tilio’s half-hit shot wobbled wide of the post to the glee of a parochial home crowd.
In the second half, Australia’s persistent build-up play finally paid off when Connor Metcalfe was allowed to chip a cross into the All White penalty area, where it was met perfectly by the head of Duke, rising above Reid and Nando Pijnaker.
Main photo: Duke directs his header goalwards.
The goal lifted the Australians and dampened the crowd’s spirits for a while.
However, a round of substitutions by coach Danny Hay rejuvenated the home side, particularly with a lively Alex Greive who seemed determined to win every 50/50 ball he could.
The All Whites settled in to finish the game with the line-up of the future.
Marko Stamenic had been hardworking and confident in the centre of the pitch, and he was working well with Joe Bell and the Phoenix’s two Bens, Waine and Old.
But the Australians had one more blow to come.
With 10 minutes left, substitute Garang Kuol broke down the right and crossed into the box where Riley McGree met it with a shot that Sail managed to save. The rebound rattled around like a pinball and a second shot struck Liberato Cacace on the arm.
It earned Cacace a yellow card, and the Australians a penalty.
Debutant Jason Cummings calmly put it away.
New Zealand threw everyone forward for the last few minutes, firing long balls into the Australian box but without much result.
The Australians showed their respect, wasting a bit of time and carefully managing down the clock.
The homecoming was over.
The Socceroos head to the World Cup in Qatar, while the All Whites can look forward to future iterations of Sunday’s line-up which has the potential to produce a quality side for many years to come.
READ MORE: Match report from Brisbane game >>>>
Match stats (New Zealand / Australia)
- Shots: 10 / 10
- Shots on target: 2 / 6
- Possession: 44% / 56%
- Passes: 330 / 416
- Pass accuracy: 73% / 79%
- Fouls: 10 / 14
- Yellow cards: 1 / 2
- Offsides: 0 / 2
- Corners: 4 / 4
Oli Sail, Tim Payne (Storm Roux 75′), Bill Tuiloma, Winston Reid (c) (Michael Boxall 74′), Nando Pijnaker, Liberato Cacace, Matt Garbett (Ben Old 74′), Joe Bell, Elijah Just (Alex Greive 55′), Marko Stamenic, Chris Wood (Ben Waine 32′).
Subs not used: Deklan Wynne, Michael Woud, Andre de Jong, Dane Ingham, Callum McCowatt, Cam Howieson, Kyle Adams, Alex Paulsen.
Head coach: Danny Hay
Andrew Redmayne, Nathaniel Atkinson (Ryan Strain 63′), Thomas Deng, Harrison Delbridge, Joel King, Connor Metcalfe (Keanu Baccus 83′), Denis Genreau (Cam Devlin 63′), Mathew Leckie, Riley McGree, Marco Tilio (Garang Kuol 73′), Mitch Duke (Jason Cummings 63′).
Subs not used: Miloš Degenek, Martin Boyle, Mitchell Langerak, Tyrese Francois.
Head coach: Graham Arnold
Game played on Sunday September 25, 2022
New Zealand 0
Australia 2 (Mitchell Duke 54′, Jason Cummings 80′ pen)
Game played on Thursday, September 22, 2022
Australia 1 (Awer Mabil 33′)
New Zealand 0