Belarus kick off with Kiwi victory
Belarus gave their dreams of reaching the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament knockout stages a significant boost by beginning their quest with a 1-0 victory over New Zealand at the City of Coventry Stadium.
Georgy Kondratyev’s side, who finished third at last year’s UEFA U-21 Championship to reach London 2012, edged what was an even encounter for the majority of the match against their OFC counterparts.
Defender Ian Hogg almost gave New Zealand an opportunistic lead after nine minutes when, seeing that Belarus goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor had strayed from his line expecting a cross, the 22-year-old shot at goal, but his effort sailed narrowly over.
Gutor saved a Chris Wood header four minutes later, before the European side created their first chances with 20 minutes played.
Taking a leaf out of Hogg’s book, Renan Bardini Bressan tried to score directly from a corner-kick but his audacious effort was thwarted by Kiwi ‘keeper Michael O’Keeffe.
From the subsequent corner, Belarus striker Sergei Kornilenko capitalised on hesitation among the New Zealand defence but his attempt at goal was blocked bravely by Michael McGlinchey.
Marco Rojas and Kornilenko traded long-range efforts at either end, with the former’s strike saved spectacularly by Gutor, before Belarus broke the deadlock right on half-time.
Again it was a corner delivery from Bressan but on this occasion O’Keeffe missed the ball completely, allowing midfielder Dmitry Baga a simple header to put Belarus a goal ahead at the break.
Belarus emerged for the second period with increased confidence but the Kiwis were determined and should have been level on 66 minutes.
Kosta Barbarouses played Wood through one-on-one with Gutor but the West Bromwich Albion striker rushed his finish and the chance was gone.
Kondratyev’s men dominated what remained of the match, however, and should have extended their lead. Kornilenko, Andrei Voronkov and Igor Kuzmenok all forced saves from O’Keeffe, and Kornilenko hit the crossbar, but the single goal proved enough.
The next round of fixtures in Group C take place in Manchester on Sunday, when New Zealand will meet Egypt before Belarus face heavyweights and section leaders Brazil.