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FIFA U-17 World Cup: New Zealand face uphill task against in-form Paraguay

New Zealand, who will be without the services of their influential skipper Max Mata, face a difficult situation against an in-form Paraguay side in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 08, 2017 23:46 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Bihan Sengupta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
FIFA U-17 World Cup,New Zealand football team,Paraguay football team
New Zealand will be without their influential skipper Max Mata for the FIFA U-17 World Cup clash against Paraguay.(AP)

They were the first ones to reach the city in order to get ‘acclimatized to the conditions’. Yet, despite playing three games in Mumbai so far, New Zealand are yet to register a victory to their name. They had lost 1-2 to Brazil and 2-3 to England in the two friendly games, and could only earn a 1-1 draw against Turkey in their opening Group B fixture of the under-17 World Cup.

Thus, when they lock horns with an in-form Paraguay on Monday, a lot will be at stake for the side featuring in the competition for the sixth consecutive time. With just a single point to their name, a loss could virtually draw the curtains for Danny Hay’s boys, another draw wouldn’t do much good as well.

Kiwi’s woes

While there’s a lot that coach Hay will have to change if New Zealand are to hope to go through to the next round, the added trouble of missing captain Max Mata’s services will surely complicate things for the former international. Trying to put up a brave face at the end of the first game, Hay had stated that although he felt the decision to hand marching orders to Mata was a bit harsh, it would provide other teenagers an opportunity to prove themselves.

Yet, Mata’s absence will hurt the All Whites. In the three matches they’ve played in Mumbai so far, Mata has scored twice, once in the friendly against Brazil and in their inaugural group B game against Turkey. Also, failing to keep a clean-sheet so far is an additional worry for Hay. His defence was torn apart in the friendlies and had Turkey not wasted their opportunities, Friday’s scoreline could have read different as well.

The only positive thus far has been that they’ve found the back of the net in all three games and with Mata having to sit out; others will have to prove that their coach’s words were not just morale boosters.

Confident Paraguay

Unlike other South American teams that have entered the tournament, Paraguay were the only side to have held Brazil to a draw in their qualifying campaign. To cap it off; they started their campaign on a fantastic note, beating Mali 3-2 in their inaugural clash. Coach Gustavo Moringo was elated by his side’s performance and had stated that his side looked like an improved lot after the third goal.

Paraguay led by two goals at one point before finding themselves back on level terms only for a second-half winner to earn them all three points. But what had impressed the coach more was his team’s ability to hold a tight defensive line against a strong Mali side in the second half. Thus, against New Zealand, who haven’t really looked too threatening upfront so far, that shouldn’t be too much of a worry for the Paraguay think-tank.

Although Moringo stated that it was a combined effort that earned his side a victory, a lot will be expected from the likes of Leonardo Sanchez, the side’s leading goal-scorer in the qualifiers, Alan Rodriguez and Antonio Galeano, who had put up impressive shows. If the tie indeed tilts their way at the end of the game, the South American side will reach the knockout stage after 17 years.

First Published: Oct 08, 2017 23:06 IST