Sunday, 30 June 2013

Max Crocombe's International Adventure

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It's not been much of a summer break for Max Crocombe. While most of his team-mates have been relaxing throughout the summer, he has been busy preparing to join his New Zealand teammates at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

New Zealand were not particularly fancied, understandably, but the tournament offered Crocombe a great opportunity to test himself against high standard opposition and he was certainly kept busy as New Zealand struggled to match the pace of their opponents throughout the tournament. Crocombe got off to the worst possible start, when less than 15 minutes into their opening match against Uzbekistan he gifted their opponents an opening goal with a suicidal pass to an Uzbek attacker. He saved the initial attempt but Abbosbek Makhstaliev was on hand to tap in the rebound.

To be fair to Crocombe, he kept the Kiwis in the game shortly after with some good saves but with little protection from his defence it always looked unlikely that he would be able to prevent Uzbekistan from breaching his goal again. They doubled their lead when Igor Sergeev was played in and although Crocombe should probably be disappointed that he was beaten at his near post, he had been left in a difficult position by his defence's failure to cover the run. And there was little he could do about Uzbekistan's third shortly after, a sublime strike from Diyorjon Turapov.

Following the match, Crocombe took to Twitter to apologise for the first goal:

He was dropped for the Kiwis' second match but the change did little to reverse New Zealand's fortunes as they lost 2-0 to Uruguay, with goalkeeper Scott Basalaj suffering a similar embarrassment as he was lobbed from a free-kick just four minutes in.

Crocombe returned for New Zealand's final match, a 2-1 defeat to group winners Croatia and put in a decent shift – particularly in the first half – though he still suffered a few moments to forget. He got caught out of position for Croatia's opener, coming out to collect a cross and finding himself in no-man's-land as Stipe Perica headed home. An unstoppable shot from the impressive Ante Rebic sealed the win for the Croats but it could have been a lot worse for the Kiwis if not for Crocombe, who made several important saves to keep New Zealand in the match.

New Zealand exited the tournament ignominiously, finishing bottom of Group F but their chances in this tournament were always remote. Hopefully Crocombe will reflect on it in a positive light, rather than allowing it to dent his confidence. There are definitely areas of his game that have been highlighted as needing improvement (he seemed uncomfortable with the ball at his feet and his positioning was not always perfect), but there should be plenty of opportunities for him to iron out those problems in the new development squad this season.

Not many products of League Two youth academies get the opportunity to play in tournaments like this and hopefully the opportunity to play against an impressive standard of opposition has whetted Crocombe's appetite for first-team football this coming season.

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