Brave. Courageous. Gutsy.

They're words which have often been used to describe New Zealand football sides in past years. But what they've sometimes masked is a lack of quality, made up for by heart, commitment and a roll-your-sleeves-up mentality.

Opposition sides knew they weren't going to get an easy ride, even though they were skilful enough to eventually succumb us.

The Junior All Whites were brave last night, too. But it wasn't brave in the ways described above, although they certainly left nothing out on Waikato Stadium.

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This was a different type of courage. It was a belief that - actually - New Zealand teams can compete on footballing terms with higher-ranked opposition.

New Zealand can play football.

For a period in the second half, just after New Zealand equalised, you couldn't tell which was the European side and which was the supposed minnow. The Junior All Whites passed the ball in all parts of the pitch, refused to bang long balls and asked some serious questions of the Portuguese.

Often, the only thing lacking was a touch more composure and quality in the front third.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson must have looked on with a growing sense of optimism. Many of these young men will grace his sides in the years ahead and they're playing the style he has preached since his arrival.

Moving to a back three worked perfectly for Darren Bazeley. Captain Bill Tuiloma was immense, and Cory Brown - who hadn't played a minute of the tournament - slotted in seamlessly and was assured throughout.

At right wing-back, Andrew Blake put in the sort of performance which should have the team at Phoenix HQ quickly drafting up a contract.

Aside from the suspended Clayton Lewis, this looked like New Zealand's best eleven in its best formation.

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Tuiloma, Brown, Blake and others are the new breed of kiwi defenders. Yes, they run and hassle and tackle and give everything as their predecessors in the lower shirt numbers have done.

But they also look comfortable with ball at feet, regardless of where they are on the pitch. There was no panic in possession last night, no banging it long, no sense of inadequacy.

As they left the field last night, our best young players received a brilliant ovation from the raucous Hamilton crowd, and deservedly so.

They provided us with a glimpse into the future of football in this country and the view was a good one.

New Zealand can play football.