Football: All Whites fall to Russia in Confederations Cup opener

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The All Whites first foray at the Confederations Cup has ended in defeat, with a 2-0 loss to the host nation today.

Russia were good value for their win, as only the woodwork and several impressive saves by New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic prevented a more emphatic scoreline.

It was a damaging result for the All Whites, with much tougher tests against Mexico and Portugal to come.

New Zealand had some chances – with Ryan Thomas denied by a brilliant save from Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, and a Tommy Smith header cleared off the line – but both opportunities came late in the second half, when the sting had been taken out of the game.

Marinovic and Thomas were the standouts for New Zealand, while the back three of Andrew Durante, Tommy Smith and Michael Boxall fought manfully against the odds.

Russia opened the scoring through midfielder Denis Glushakov in the 31st minute, though the goal was later credited to Michael Boxall, with the defender getting the last touch as he tried to clear.

The second goal almost resembled a training ground exercise, with Fedor Smolov slotting home in the 69 minute from a pinpoint cross, after the Russian Premier League golden boot had strolled through from the halfway line before sending the ball wide.

Much of the match wasn’t pretty viewing from an All Whites’ point of view.

They were untidy in possession and wasted the few opportunities they had. Chris Wood eschewed two good shooting chances, while delivery was poor from the rare set pieces they earned.

It meant they were constantly under pressure, and midway through the first half their midfielders, in particular, looked exhausted. The Russian side had worked out the All Whites’ pressing strategy and played around it.

The match had an unusual start, with Russian president Vladimir Putin addressing the crowd after both sets of players had entered the arena. It was a lengthy discourse – not quite Fidel Castro, but in the same spirit – so most of the All Whites players opted to stretch and jog to stay warm.

New Zealand made a bright start, but it was brief. After making some inroads in the Russian half for the first few minutes, they then barely saw the ball for the next 20.

They struggled to keep possession, and the morsels they had weren’t used well. They took a direct approach – which is understandable – but lacked accuracy with that method.
Russia soon eased into their work. They were constantly outflanking the All Whites – with wing backs Kip Colvey and Deklan Wynne often outnumbered.

New Zealand will fortunate not to incur damage early, with Michael McGlinchey clearing off the line after Viktor Vasin’s shot had hit a post and rolled along the goal line.

A few minutes later Tommy Smith was called into action in a similar scenario, and it looked for a while like the dam was going to burst spectacularly.

But then, for a brief period, New Zealand found their feet. Wood blazed high and wide from 25 metres, then wasted a free kick after Thomas was brought down on the edge of the area.

That was about as good as it got in the first half and a Russian goal was inevitable given the weight of possession, though the method of concession was disappointing. Marco Rojas played a careless pass to Kip Colvey, who dallied and was indecisive under pressure. The Russians swooped, and Glushakov was rewarded for his clever run by forcing the ball home, via Boxall. Smolov sealed the result in the 69th minute, before Thomas and Smith were denied consolation goals.

Russia 2 (M Boxall (og), F Smolov)
New Zealand 0
Halftime: 1-0

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Source :  New Zealand Herald

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