New Zealand came from behind to defeat Myanmar 5-1 in Wellington, giving the hosts hope of reaching the FIFA U-20 World Cup knockout stages. The excellent Noah Billingsley equalised Aung Thu's superb opener, before Monty Patterson pushed the Junior All Whites ahead minutes after the break. A late collapse from the Asian side saw Joel Stevens, Sam Brotherton and Clayton Lewis score to bring the Kiwi goal difference back to zero and finally give the home fans something to cheer.
Despite the margin of their defeat, Myanmar dominated the opening stages and took the lead with a wonderfully-crafted goal. After winning the ball in their defensive third, red shirts flooded forward, working their way towards the edge of the Junior All Whites' penalty area. Thu was fed inside the box and, taking an excellent touch to cut inside on to his right foot, leaving Brock Messenger on his backside, the Myanmar No9 curled a superb effort beyond Nikola Tzanev.
The Wellington Regional Stadium was stunned, and it almost got worse for the home support minutes later as the goalscorer Thu, brimming with confidence, let fly from 30 yards. But his thunderous effort crashed off the underside of the bar and away.
Myanmar were made to pay for their profligacy. The home crowd had been made to wait for something to cheer, and almost three-and-a-half hours into the hosts’ campaign, they had their first goal. Deklan Wynne was set free down the left, after a defence-splitting pass found him in the Myanmar penalty area, and his cross left Billingsley with a simple tap-in from six yards out.
Within 90 seconds of the restart, New Zealand were ahead and, after scoring the first, the youngest of the Junior All Whites set up the second. The ball was worked into the Myanmar box and a superb backheel nutmeg from Rufer found Clayton Lewis, who in turn set up Billingsley. His cross-cum-shot was turned home by Monty Patterson and the elation from the crowd was touched with a tinge of relief.
It was to get even better for the hosts, as Myanmar faded quickly in the second half once more, with echoes of their six-goal collapse against Ukraine on Tuesday.
With every goal crucial in the race to finish as the best third-placed side, Darren Bazeley threw on forward-thinking midfielder Joel Stevens for defender Messenger, and it proved an inspired switch. Billingsley found space down the New Zealand left, who cut back to Stevens, and the No7 side-footed home with his first touch.
The Kiwis' new-found confidence bore fruit again moments later, with Sam Brotherton rising highest from a corner to head home and give the hosts more than a glimmer of hope of reaching the knockout stages. In the closing moments, Wynne found space once more on the New Zealand left, Latt failed to clear his tame cross and Lewis had the simple task of bringing the hosts' overall goal difference in Group A back to zero.
The home fans will have to wait and see if this victory was enough for them to progress, with the Round of 16 picture becoming clearer over the coming days.