A hat-trick by Wellington Phoenix striker Luke Supyk got New Zealand off to a scratchy but winning start with a 3-2 win against New Caledonia at the OFC U-17 Championship.
Playing the opening game at the tournament in Fiji, New Zealand struggled at times in the conditions and against a robust and well-organised New Caledonia team.
The match was played in tricky conditions, with heat and humidity causing early problems, followed by rain that made the pitch surface increasingly slippery.
New Zealand’s starting line-up had an international look to it, with players being drawn from the United Kingdom — captain Leuluai (Manchester City) and wide man Adam Watson (Stoke City), North Macedonia (Konstantino Gorgiovski), Australia (Anton Isaako) as well as seven domestic-based players.
New Zealand took the lead in the 9th minute when Leuluai showed his class with a beautiful 30-metre pass that sent Watson free on the right. He hammered a low ball into the New Caledonia box and goalkeeper Claude Tiaouniane fumbled it into the path of Wellington Phoenix frontman Sukyp.
He smacked the ball into the net from six metres.
Main photo: Luke Supyk … won the Player of the Match award for his hat-trick performance. Photo: OFC Media.
Any expectations that this goal was the start of a walkover were quickly doused with the start of rain, and a spirited fightback from the New Caledonians.
In the 16th minute, Ronald Nganyane got the ball wide on the right and he struck a hopeful shot towards the near post where it slipped between post and ‘keeper Matt Foord.
Most of the half was played in the middle third but both sides had chances.
Watson shot wide in the 26th minute; almost immediately, Jean Phillipe Anggexetine just missed the target at the other end.
Both teams went into the break in need of a shake-up; neither had shown much urgency in a scrappy first half.
It didn’t take long for the game to come alive in the second half.
New Caledonia’s Timotei Zeter dribbled into the penalty area and New Zealand’s Anton Isaako was judged to have brought him down.
Referee Kavitesh Behari pointed to the spot. Then followed four minutes of delays as players went down with cramp, others took drinks and players regrouped.
Cally captain Joseph Hnaissilin stepped up and gave his side a 2-1 lead in the 69th minute.
Going behind seemed to provide New Zealand with a turbo boost and the side showed a sense of purpose lacking so far.
Supyk darted into the New Caledonian box and Hnaisslin bowled him over.
After treatment, and more delays, Supyk took the penalty, calmly slotting it inside the post.
Within a few minutes, the Kiwis took a 3-2 lead.
Despite New Caledonian protests to halt the game while they had a player on the ground, New Zealand sent the ball out wide where Matt D’Hotman crossed into the box.
Supyk met it on the full, heading the ball home for his hat-trick.
Both coaches worked their benches and the New Zealanders had to withstand some nervy moments in the final stages, including seven minutes of stoppage time.
New Caledonia’s Grégory Diko had the chance to level the scores a minute before the final whistle but his shot whistled wide of the post.
The Player of the Match was awarded to Supyk.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand squad will be bolstered by the arrival on Thursday of Luke Flowerdew from the Wellington Phoenix. He has been called up as an injury replacement for a yet-to-be-named New Zealand player.
Game played on Wednesday January 11, 2023
New Zealand 3 (Luke Sukyp 9′, 72′ pen, 76′)
New Caledonia 2 (Ronald Nganyane 16′, Joseph Hnaissilin 69′ pen),
Starting line-up: Matt Foord, Ryan Lee (Jackson Cole 90+3′), Marley Leuluai (captain), Anton Isaako (Harry Huxford 75′), Dylan Gardiner, Konstantino Gorgiovski, James Ray (Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues 75′), Luke Supyk, Anaru Cassidy, Adam Watson (Niko Bruce 43′), Matt D’Hotman (Nicholas Murphy 90+3′).
Subs not used: Joshua Brown, Eamonn McCarron, Luka Coveny, Eric Imachi Sugahara, Jesper Edwards, Harrison Tisch.
Head coach: Martin Bullock.
Starting line-up: Claude TIAOUNIANE, Ronald NGANYANE (Amin BELGHECHAM 46′), Grégory DIKO, Wadria HANYE, Joseph HNAISSILIN (Jean Yves SAÏKO, 85′), Anthony LEVY, Nolhann ALEBATE (Kylian WIAKO 85′), Jyhrim UPA (Iwatro HMUINE 89′), Bayron GOHOUPE, Jean Phillipe ANGEXETINE, Timotei ZETER (Yazid-Enzo Wajoka 50′).
Subs not used: Maximilian DABOME, Maël RABAN GRANGIER, Simon UE, Sipane QAEZE, Yazid WAJOKA, David CAHMA, Doryan ETIENNE.
Head coach: Léonardo LOPEZ. Other staff: Johan SIDANER (assistant coach), Antoine MARSAUD (goalkeeper coach), Lucas BITAUD (video analyst), Thierry MARMONT (team manager), Jean Marie SABOT (doctor).
Referee: Kavitesh Behari (Fiji); first assistant: Folio Moeaki (Tonga); second assistant: Hilmon Sese (Vanuatu); fourth official: Veer Singh (Fiji); Fifth official: Jeremy Garae (Vanuatu), assessor: Neil Poloso (Solomon Islands), co-ordinator: Cheyanne Pay (Australia).
Yellows: Dylan Gardiner 57′, Martin Bullock 90+3′).
Yellows: Timotei Zeter 51′, Yazid-Enzo Wajoka 61′, Jean-Yves Saiko 75′.
Game to be played on Saturday January 14, 2023
New Zealand v American Samoa
Fiji FA Academy, Ba (4pm, NZT)