The host nation are competing in their fourth under-20 World Cup, and had never previously won a match – let alone reached the knockout phase of the tournament.
Victory over Myanmar in their third and final Group A fixture followed on from a 0-0 draw against Ukraine and a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the USA.
It means the Junior All Whites finish third in the group behind Ukraine and USA – but results on Saturday and Sunday will determine whether they have done well enough to qualify for the knock-out stage as one of the best third-placed teams across the six groups. Six-time champions Argentina have already made a shock exit from the tournament.
If New Zealand are successful they face the daunting prospect of taking on Ghana, Colombia or Portugal in the last 16. “(They’re) tough opponents, but whoever we face now is going to be a massive, massive challenge,” said New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley, quoted by www.stuff.co.nz. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to play against some top teams and some top players. With some of the results we’ve seen, you just never know.
“We need to assess the next two days and work out if we’ve qualified and then find out who we’re playing and start working on them.”
New Zealand made a nervous start against Myanmar, and fell behind after 27 minutes. But Noah Billingsley levelled for the host nation, who never looked back as further goals by Monty Patterson, Joel Stevens, Sam Brotherton and Clayton Lewis earned a convincing victory.