A wonder-goal from Lukas Julis lifted Czech Republic to a 1-0 victory over Group D opponents New Zealand in Torreon. The Czechs were the more impressive side prior to the break, but after an open second half, the Kiwis will be left ruing several chances, denied by the outstanding Lukas Zima in goal.
While New Zealand began the match the more confident side, the nervy Czechs began to settle down soon enough, charging forward and taking their opportunities from every angle outside the area.
After an early header chance from Tim Payne, New Zealand were forced behind the ball. Czech Republic assumed majority possession and began their assault on the Kiwis’ defence through Jindrich Kadula. The midfielder fired a stunning shot that went just wide of the right post. But it would only be another two minutes before the Czechs found their first goal at the finals. Lukas Julis ripped a rocket from outside the area that travelled crosswise into the upper-right corner in the 28th minute, giving Basalaj almost no chance to make the save.
Czech Republic were knocking on the door for another - Julis with an effort blocked by the Kiwi defence and Ales Cermak forcing Basalaj into a punching near-post save over the bar. New Zealand were much improved in the second half, though, with Payne and hat-trick hero Stephen Carmichael igniting their attack. Ten minutes after the interval, Carmichael hit for the Kiwis’ best chance of the game, but keeper Zima was up to challenge. Marek Strada responded, defying two defenders at the touchline to slot back to Kadula waiting atop the area, but the midfielder hit his chance over the crossbar.
However, the Young All Whites were not to be taken lightly, as Payne caused plenty of trouble for the Czech defence. The No9 dribbled several defenders in the box, and notably forced Zima into a fingertip save in the 69th minute. The match was open for either team to find the net, but Julis missed his chance to put the game away after he ballooned a wide-open shot over the New Zealand crossbar. And successive efforts in the 85th minute from Payne and Carmichael, both incredibly hungry for a goal, made for a nervy end for the Czechs.
The final round of matches will prove critical in Group D, with New Zealand, USA, and Uzbekistan all sitting on three points. New Zealand are set to face the Americans on 25 June in Pachuca, whice Czech Republic will meet Uzbekistan in Torreon.