New Zealand came from a goal down to draw 1-1 against Turkey in the opening Group B match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the D Y Patil Stadium, here today.
Turkey were given an 18th minute lead by striker Ahmed Kutucu through a headed goal which was neutralised in the 58th minute by New Zealand captain Max Mata.
Incidentally, the two countries had drawn 1-1 in their only previous encounter in the tournament eight years ago.
Turkey, making their third appearance in this tournament, appeared the more skillful team in the first half and their quick passing game had the Kiwis under a lot of pressure as unseasonal rains welcomed both the sides.
But New Zealand, who have made the tournament proper for the eighth time and sixth in a row, came into their own in the second half to equalise and even dominated play for a prolonged spell.
The Turks’ forward duo of Ahmed Kutucu, who opened their account in the 18th minute with a headed goal, and Malik Karaahmet got splendid support from the mid-field in which Kerem Kesgin and Atalay Babacan stole the show in the first half.
In the eighth minute itself the New Zealand goal came under a lot of pressure following a speedy left flank run by overlapping back Melih Gokcimen whose angular effort was easily blocked by the rival goalie Jacob Clark.
New Zealand, who counter-attacked on occasions, tried to take advantage of a none-too-sure Turkey defense and saw Kingsley Sinclair hook a ball while off balance just wide of the left post off a feed from Elijah Just.
This was five minutes before the superb headed goal by Kutucu, who is registered with German club F C Schalke 04, as he rose and met the excellent corner kick taken from the right by Kesgin to bulge the right corner of the net.
Kutucu was soon afterwards booked for rough play but continued to harass the New Zealand defense with his skilful play and could have scored again in the 39th minute but for Clark blocking his shot taken from well inside the box.
The change of ends saw New Zealand mount some attacks but it was Turkey who came close to scoring in the 51st minute when captain Recep Gul advanced into the box to meet a cross from the right but his stiff left footed essay was blocked by Kiwi custodian Clark.
The hard work of the Kiwis finally paid dividends when an unmarked Mata took advantage of a leaky defense by running forward to meet a short free-kick taken by midfielder Just and beat Turkey goalkeeper Berke Ozer with a left-footed shot.
Mata was soon afterwards booked for a foul and then a stray dog entered the playing area to stop the game for a brief.
Turkey made three changes by replacing Kutucu, Karaahmet and then Gokcimen, but could not cobble the sort of attacking moves with which they repeatedly troubled their rivals in the first half.
In fact Turkey’s defense looked vulnerable and their citadel could have fallen again had Spragg not booted over a cross from the left from Mata with none to challenge him.
Turkey were fortunate not to concede a second goal when creative New Zealand medio Just hooked a left-footed shot on- the-run that hit the left post and rebounded into play.
At the other end Turkey captain Kesgin’s shot from well outside the penalty box was stopped by Clark.