After six games without a goal, the All Whites finally broke their drought to register a 2-1 win against China at Wellington’s Sky Stadium.
In the second of their international series, New Zealand won thanks to an own goal and another from substitute Matthew Garbett.
Main photo: Matthew Garbett is surrounded by teammates after scoring his goal.
But New Zealand did it the hard way, missing a first-half penalty and conceding a goal in stoppage time to put a few nerves on edge.
With the absences of senior players Chris Wood (injured) and Tommy Smith (suspended), interim head coach Darren Bazeley picked a side with Alex Greive to lead the attack and Michael Boxall in the centre of the backline.
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Bazeley opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Marco Rojas in the 10 role, and given freedom to roam.
Joe Bell (23) was named captain of the full international side for the first time.
Bell provided the first half-chance of the game when he slid the ball into the path of Greive but goalkeeper Junling Yan spread himself to block the ball.
Shihao Wei got China’s first shot on target when he hit a rising shot from outside the area, forcing goalkeeper Oli Sail to play safe and tip it over the bar.
Sail kept the home side in the game with a good save in the 19th minute when Lei ran through and blasted a shot goalwards.
Midway through the half, New Zealand were dominating possession — the live stats showed they had two-thirds of the ball at that stage — but China were demonstrating they were comfortable without the ball, and were prepared to rely on fast counterattacks.
Compared to Thursday’s tame effort at Mt Smart Stadium, the All Whites were willing to shoot from anywhere.
Libby Cacace shot hard and low from outside the area, to see his effort blocked.
Marko Stamenic whacked a thunderous 22-metre shot along the ground, for ‘keeper Junling Yan to smother.
Boxall hit one from 30 metres that swerved high and wide of the goal.
Stamenic headed wide from 10 metres when Elijah Just swung a cross into the box.
Surely, a goal was coming, to end the All Whites six-game drought in front of goal.
Just darted into the box and was brought down in the 33rd minute. Referee Kim Woo Sung pointed to the spot.
Greive, the only All White playing in Wellington for the first time, took responsibility and lined up the penalty.
He struck it tamely, and the ‘keeper pulled the ball into his chest.
The collective anxiety was obvious among the New Zealanders.
Ten minutes later, they broke through, scoring their first goal in 583 minutes of international football, the first since March 30, 2022.
The scorer? Chenjie Zhu, a 22-year-old centre back who headed a Rojas free kick into his own net, under pressure from Boxall.
The All Whites’ relief and joy was obvious in the goal celebration, despite having no goalscorer to mob.
Half-time: New Zealand 1, China 0.
Half-time stats (New Zealand / China)
Possession: 63% / 37%
Time in opposition half: 56% / 44%
Shots: 11 / 2
Shots on target: 2 / 2
Crosses: 7 / 4
Saves: 2 / 2
Passes: 333 / 183
Pass accuracy: 85% / 76%
Fouls: 4 / 9
Corners: 5 / 2
The second half produced half-chances for both sides as China worked their subs bench and looked to go forward.
In the 64th minute, substitute Max Mata was tackled in the box as he was about to shoot.
As the game entered its last quarter, the All Whites focussed on holding possession but still looking to get forward.
In the 80th minute, New Zealand made sure of the win when Bell stroked an inch-perfect pass through the China backline for substitute Matthew Garbett to take on his chest, control the ball and slot it into the net.
Garbett celebrated in front of the White Noise; he was quickly surrounded by teammates.
When the commotion died, Kyle Adams came off the bench to make his full international debut.
And for the last segment of the game, the All Whites — and the crowd — had the luxury of being able to enjoy the moment, as they ran down the clock to victory.
Sail and Adams were needed to block a late China goal attempt. It was a reminder the job had not been completed.
The warning was not heeded.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Bell lost possession in midfield, and the China players went forward en masse.
The cross came in and substitute Dun Ba firmly planted his header into the New Zealand net.
A minute or so later, the final whistle went.
The All Whites and their supporters could enjoy a long-awaited home victory.
Full game stats (New Zealand / China)
Shots: 17 / 10
Shots on target: 4 / 7
Possession: 60% / 40%
Passes: 620 / 412
Pass accuracy: 83% / 75%
Fouls: 8 / 14
Corners: 6 / 5
Game played on Sunday March 26, 2023
New Zealand 2 (own goal 42′, Matthew Garbett 81′)
China 1 (Dun Ba 90+2′)
Oli Sail, Tim Payne (Callan Elliot 75′), Michael Boxall, Nando Pijnaker (Kyle Adams 82′), Liberato Cacace, Joe Bell (c), Marko Stamenic, Marco Rojas (Clayton Lewis 64′), Alex Greive (Max Mata 64′), Callum McCowatt (Kosta Barbarouses 82′), Elijah Just (Matthew Garbett 75′).
Subs: Alex Paulsen, Stefan Marinovich, Cam Howieson, Dane Ingham, Alex Rufer, Deklan Wynne.
Junling Yan, Linpeng, Chenjie, Wu Shaocong (Wei Zhen 46′), Yang, Wu Xi (c) (Xie Pengfei 82′), Xu Xin (He Chao 66′), Dang Hanwen (Sun Guowen 54′), Lei, Wei Shihao (Lin Liangming 46′), Chen Pu (Dun Ba 46′).
Subs: Dianzuo, Shangyuan, Shuai, Binbin, Ang, Jiaqi.
Referee: Kim Woo Sung.
Assistants: Folio Moeahi, Bernard Mutukera.
Fourth official: Sivakorn Pu-Udom.
Watch nine minutes of edited highlights here:
Game played on Thursday March 23, 2023
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
New Zealand 0
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