Captain Chris Wood salvaged a 1-1 draw with a stoppage-time penalty for the All Whites against DR Congo in their international friendly played in Spain.
In his 71st appearance, Wood showed all his experience in drawing the foul for the penalty, and then calmly slotting the spot kick for his 34th international goal.
Though the Congo team disputed the penalty decision, the result was no less than New Zealand deserved after their match before a small crowd at the Estadio Nueva Condomina, Murcia.
Main photo: Chris Wood appeals for a penalty after being brought down in stoppage time.
Positives for New Zealand were a return from injury by Sarpreet Singh, who looked comfortable in midfield, and the resilience showed by the Kiwis in their second-half fightback after conceding straight after the interval.
Congo started the match energetically, pushing forward early and putting New Zealand under pressure in the opening minutes of this first-ever meeting between the sides.
The All Whites settled and in the 9th minute, created their first goalscoring opportunity when Callam McCowatt clipped a shot across the face of the goal, forcing Congo ‘keeper Mpasi Nzau to tip the ball over for a corner.
For the next 20 minutes, the All Whites had slightly better of the play, holding possession but without threatening the Congo goal.
Congo were content to let New Zealand have the ball, and looked to counterattack.
By half-time, honours were even.
Congo went ahead in the first minute of the second half following a mix-up between New Zealand’s Liberato Cacace and goalkeeper Nik Tzanev.
Left back Cacace tried to head a tame cross from Samuel Moutoussamy back to his ‘keeper.
Whether the header was a poor option, or the ‘keeper should have done more to come to meet it, will no doubt be the subject of a post-game team briefing.
But it allowed Cédric Bakambu to nip between them and take the ball past the ‘keeper for a simple finish.
The goal opened up the game and both sides played some good football.
New Zealand head coach Darren Bazeley emptied his bench, using all six substitutions allowed for the friendly.
Midfielder Matt Garbett and striker Max Mata looked lively and they helped push their side forward as they searched for an equaliser.
A neat pass from Garbett put Wood into the box and the skipper put his body between ball and defender Gedeon Kalulu.
Kalulu made contact, Wood went down and the referee pointed to the spot.
After Wood’s goal, New Zealand had a late chance to win the game when substitute Bill Tuiloma chipped a ball into the box for Mata to reach with his head, but goalkeeper Mpasi got a hand to the ball.
The New Zealanders now head to London for their Wednesday meeting with the Socceroos.
Watch the match
The game was live-streamed by FIFA+
Game played on Saturday October 14, 2023
New Zealand 1 (Chris Wood 90+1′ pen)
DR Congo 1 (Cédric Bakambu 46′)
Nik Tzanev, Michael Boxall (Tyler Bindon 86′), Liberato Cacace (Dalton Wilkins 79′), Niko Kirwan (Bill Tuiloma 62′), Nando Pijnaker, Callum McCowatt, Sarpreet Singh (Max Mata 79′), Marko Stamenic, Eli Just (Joe Champness 79′), Ben Waine (Matt Garbett 62′), Chris Wood (captain).
Subs not used: Henry Gray, Michael Woud, Alex Greive.
Yellow card: Pijnaker (90+4′)
Lionel Mpasi, Bryan Bayele, Chancel Mbemba, Samuel Moutoussamy, Theo Bongonda (William Balikwisha 60′), Charles Pickel (Edo Kayembe 90′), Cedric Bakambu (Simon Banza 78′), Elia Meschack (Grady Diangana 46′), Silas Katompa (Jackson Muleka 60′), Gedeon Kalulu, Dylan Batubinsika.
Subs not used: Baggio Siadi Ngusia, Dimitry Bertaud.
Yellow card: Diangana (68′)
Game to be played on Wednesday October 18, 2023 (NZT)
New Zealand v Australia
Gtech Community Stadium, London, 7.45am (NZT)