New Zealand 2
After waiting almost 10 hours for a goal to arrive, the All Whites scored one in each half to edge China in Wellington today.
New Zealand earned their first victory in a year with an encouraging display that, of more importance than the performance, saw them twice find the net at Sky Stadium.
The hosts had an unlikely source to thank for the drought-breaker — China defender Zhu Chenjie, who nodded Marco Rojas’ free kick into his own net just before the break.
But the All Whites would have worried little about the identity of the scorer, especially once Matthew Garbett doubled the lead with a superb strike in the 81st minute, one that proved the difference after China snagged a late consolation.
The result was a reflection of New Zealand’s superiority in possession throughout this week’s two games. And unlike Thursday’s 0-0 draw at Mt Smart Stadium, where China created the only quality chances, the home side’s comfort on the ball today reaped repeated sights of goal.
The All Whites were still somewhat lacking in the final third, settling for long-range attempts as passing moves broke down around the box, but they stayed patient and positive enough to deserve victory.
They also survived a woeful penalty from St Mirren striker Alex Greive while the match remained scoreless, when that miss could have left them questioning whether a goal would ever arrive.
Garbett scored their last in a 5-0 triumph over the Solomon Islands in the OFC World Cup qualifying final in March 2022, a game that also represented New Zealand’s most recent win.
Since then, there was a loss to Peru, a goalless draw with Oman, a World Cup playoff defeat by Costa Rica and home-and-away setbacks against Australia.
But the All Whites were rewarded today for boasting additional intent in their attacking play, with interim coach Darren Bazeley switching to a back four and including Marco Rojas instead of a third centre-back.
In their first match in the capital since a 2017 intercontinental playoff drew with Peru, the hosts sought control throughout the clash against a side ranked 25 places above them.
Initially, however, it appeared as though the pattern established on Thursday would repeat, as the hosts’ intricate passing play came to nothing before China would counter with speed and directness.
Oli Sail was required to make two early saves, the second a strong one-handed effort from Wu Lei’s volley, as the visitors remained organised out of possession before rapidly getting behind the defence when they won the ball.
New Zealand at least looked hungrier for a sight of goal than in the first meeting, unleashing a barrage of shots that, after a string of blocks, finally worked Yan Junling.
The Chinese No 1 hardly had to work for his next save. As their passing and moving continued to prove effective, but only to a point, Elijah Just provided an injection of pace and elusiveness to burst into the box and draw a spot kick.
But with the injured Chris Wood having flown back to England, Greive tamely sent his attempt straight to a grateful goalkeeper, whose save barely met the definition.
Fortunately for Greive, with the drought creeping near 600 minutes, the All Whites had to wait only 10 more, as Rojas’ teasing delivery was turned in by Zhu.
Replays showed that, had VAR been in place, the goal could have been disallowed, with Michael Boxall starting his run in an offside position and ending it as the closest attacker to the ball.
But that did nothing to dampen the celebrations, and in the second half relief turned to joy when New Zealand added a far more eye-catching second.
Joe Bell, captaining his country for the first time in place of the suspended Tommy Smith, delivered a well-placed ball over the top while Garbett produced a good run, a great touch and an even better finish to double the lead.
Sail soon made another decent save to keep his sheet clean but could do nothing in stoppage time as Ba Dun’s unstoppable header found the top corner.
New Zealand 2 (Zhu Chenjie og 43, Matthew Garbett 81)
China 1 (Ba Dun 90+2)