For the first time in a while, I headed to a big sporting event with no copy to write and no deadlines to meet, going along to Waikato Stadium to have a gander at the Junior All Whites take on Portugal.
However, because I’m an idiot, I decided to write something anyway.
After all, how could I not after a game which was legitimately exciting and provided quite a few talking points.
Here are seven takeaways – some serious, some silly – from taking in the game from the stands.
There’s No Shame In The Loss
Two schools of thought here. The first is that New Zealand only managed two shots on target – and that despite the close scoreline, our goal was scrappy and we were outplayed.
The second is the more positive one – that there was no instance in which it looked like Portugal were playing the hosts off the park.
Sure, Portugal were the better side and looked good without displaying their title-favouritism qualities shown in the group stage, but the reason they didn’t look immense was due to the defence of the Junior All Whites, who also looked reasonably assured in possession.
Against a team of that quality, to push them right down to the wire while not looking at all overmatched is impressive. It might not have quite fit the “moral victory” categorisation, but contextually it was a good result. Besides, it took a moment of magic to put them away….
Good lord. If you’re going to go out of the tournament, might as well be to an absolute peach of a goal.
I mean, pick THAT out. I was fortunate enough to be sitting right behind the line of Martins’ strike, and you just can’t beat a curler with the outside of the foot.
I had to ask Waikato football historian Bruce Holloway on his thoughts of where that would rate on the best goals at Waikato Stadium ranking, and of course the legendary Michael Utting was somehow involved:
The Referee Was Excellent
Shoutout to Kim Jong Hyeok – from my vantage point he had a fantastic game. He wasn’t too eager on the whistle, letting soft contact go, and wasn’t too hasty with the yellow card either, making correct calls and communicating well with the players. In fact, the only potentially dubious call went in New Zealand’s favour, with one Portugal penalty shout in the second half looking like it had some merit to it. Although I haven’t had the benefits of seeing a replay, I was very impressed and it needs to be shared.
Because refs are people too *start sad musical montage*
Let us talk about football crowds in this country.
In terms of crowd size, the reported turnout of 10,000 for yesterday’s game was decent considering the conditions (rainy and windy), but there’s an interesting debate to be had about the noise levels of the crowd, which have been criticised in some places for being dead quiet and lacking chanting.
Personally, I don’t think chanting necessarily generates a good atmosphere – it depends on the level of involvement and the chants themselves. Some chants are ear-bleedingly woeful and can detract from the atmosphere. Some are next-level brilliant and make for a great occasion.
Where I am going with this? Well, the only chants audible last night were the generic “All Whites! *clap clap clap* All Whites *clap clap clap*”. However, first of all – that’s more than any rugby game ever gets – and secondly, there were moments when the crowd were fantastic in showing their support for their Under 20’s, and really made a racket.
From having been to many a Melville and Wanderers game in my time, it’s fair to say Hamilton has a fairly small hardcore football fan section, and that – like most New Zealand cities – the attendance at the big footballing events are mostly casual supporters.
Yet, sometimes it doesn’t matter. Sometimes spontaneous roars and generic chants get the job done, and the Hamilton crowd didn’t do themselves a disservice at all.
Crowd Chat Part Two
The big topics were really hit on in the crowd, such as:
Which Junior All White’s name sounds most like the name of a dog, ranked:
11) Te Atawhai
Also, the handshake for peace is ludicrous. That is all.
The Ground Announcer
Big-time shoutout to the ground announcer who sounded like your mum trying to figure out what was going on in this strange “foot….ball” thing.
From saying “player nine Alex Rufer is replaced by… player nine Stuart Holthusen” to warning potential pitch invaders of arrest, it was true unintentional comedy every time the loudspeaker spoke up.
My favourite – when “Joelle” Stevens was introduced.
Bill Tuiloma – A Class Above
Tuiloma was phenomenal last night, making several key interceptions and generally being very calm and composed at the back all night. He’s not only New Zealand’s best player, but one of the best at the whole tournament – just consider where he is in his career (making a few bench appearances for Marseille) compared to some of the other leading lights.
(Quick #hotsportstake tangent – If Tuiloma is almost undoubtedly going to have the best career of this Under 20’s squad, I’m placing my bets that Joel Stevens has the second best. Despite his size, he has a touch of Ryan Thomas about him. Big fan.)
The only question remains – what is Tuiloma’s best position? Is it centre back? Central defensive midfield, where he started the campaign? Or could we see yet see him in a wingback role, or perhaps further forward, like we’ve seen him with Birkenhead United?
For such a great athlete, it’s important to find the best place to utilise someone who will be a long-term starter for the senior All Whites. I’m just unsure of what that position is just yet.
Hamilton raised, Niall Anderson now halves his time between university studies in Auckland and catching up on all things Waikato football in the Tron. Having covered Waikato FC and WaiBOP United in the ASB Premiership, Niall is also the lead writer at nzhoops.co.nz. Find him on Twitter @NiallGunner.