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Impressive All Whites dispatch Bahrain thanks to late Kirwan header

Newshub logo Newshub 4 days ago Brad Lewis
Niko Kirwan celebrates scoring his first international goal © Image - Photosport, video - Sky Sport Niko Kirwan celebrates scoring his first international goal

A late Niko Kirwan goal has given the All Whites a deserved 1-0 victory over Bahrain in an international friendly in Manama.

New Zealand dominated possession and bossed the game for large periods, with debutant forward Joey Champness showing several pieces of brilliance.

Veteran striker Chris Wood was relatively quiet, but was still central to most of New Zealand's attacks, while Cameron McCowatt was also lively in a fluid display from the All Whites' starting front three.

Coach Danny Hay made four changes to the line-up that started in the 2-1 win over Curacao, with Eli Just replacing Sarpreet Singh, who was back in Germany for this weekend's club football action.

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The 4-3-3 formation meant debuts for Champness and right fullback Kelvin Kalua, while goalkeeper Michael Woud replaced Stefan Mironovic between the sticks. 

The All Whites started brightly, creating an early chance that was squandered by Just, who fired straight at keeper Ebrahim Lutfalla from close range, as Wood fired the rebound over the bar.

McCowatt and Wood had two more chances in between some silky play for Champness, who created headaches for Bahraini defenders with a skillset resembling Cristiano Ronaldo.

Despite dominating, the goal didn't come and the teams hit the break as they started.

The opening exchanges of the second half were much the same, with New Zealand creating small openings on attack, but failing to beat Lutfalla in goal. Champness' clever backheel from a Wood cross was well saved and he had another deflected shot saved by the Bahrain keeper, before he departed after an excellent 70-minute debut.

Ranked 91st in the world - 30 spots above New Zealand - Bahrain were restricted to long shots, none of which trouble a steady Woud, who looks every bit an international goalkeeper.

The pace of the game slowed in the final third and a goalless draw seemed on the cards, until substitute Kirwan popped up unmarked at the back post to head home a Liberato Cacace cross in the 89th minute.

The goal provided a great moment for the son of All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan, after a mistake against Curacao gave away a goal.

Coach Danny Hay will be greatly encouraged by the short two-match visit to the desert, with New Zealand claiming two wins from two over higher-ranked teams in a return to international football after a more than two-year absence.

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