Just as New Zealand were preparing to pack their bags to depart the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Lucas Imrie scored in the 91st minute to hand the Young All Whites a pivotal 2-1 win over Paraguay to see the Oceania side into the Round of 16 at Chile 2015.
The wet conditions in Puerto Montt created a quick tempo to the game with end-to-end action entertaining the Estadio Chinquihue crowd. New Zealand ‘s Hunter Ashworth rose the highest on a corner kick to direct his header into the far corner, handing the Young All Whites an early lead ten minutes into the match.
James McGarry took advantage of the slick surface and tested Miguel Martinez from a 30-yard free kick, which forced the No12 to make a diving save at his near post. Shortly afterward, Paraguay’s Carlos Ferreira did well to control the ball in New Zealand’s box and turn, firing a quick shot that Michael Woud impressively tipped over the bar.
Two minutes before half-time Paraguay pulled level after a frenetic exchange. Juan Ojeda headed Nery Balbuena’s free-kick on frame but it rattled off the crossbar, Ferreira’s quick shot was saved by Woud but it fell out to Luis Gimenez. Gimenez’s effort pinged off the near post and back into the middle of the area where New Zealand’s backline tried to clear but instead clattered into Ferreira.
Instead of calling a penalty, the referee played advantage as the ball fell out to Marcelino Namandu who slotted home at the near post, leaving the Young All Whites wondering how the score all of a sudden became 1-1. Paraguay looked to be in control of proceedings after the goal, but New Zealand would gain a man advantage on the hour mark.
Paraguay’s goalscorer picked up his second yellow in the 59th minute for a harsh challenge in midfield, leaving the South American side a man down. Knowing a win was the only way to stay alive at Chile 2015, New Zealand continued to press but it looked as though Paraguay did enough to earn a spot in the Round of 16.
However, in the 91st minute Imrie received a delightfully scooped pass by Sarpreet Singh to beat Paraguay’s offside trap and the No20 fired past Martinez from close range to win it for the Young All Whites. The victory saw New Zealand go through to the knockout stage as the second place team in Group F, while Paraguay’s fate hangs in the balance of Sunday’s final two group stage matches.