Winston Reid, the 21 yr old newbie from Auckland, became a national hero last night after securing New Zealand’s first ever World Cup point. His inclusion in the squad at the expense of the more experienced Ben Sigmund had raised a few eyebrows throughout their warm up campaign, but Reid yesterday repaid his managers faith in the most dramatic way possible.
This was Slovakia’s first World Cup game since gaining their footballing independence in 94′, and it was 28 years to the day since New Zealand played their first (and last) World cup opener against Scotland, so early nerves were to be expected in the opening half. But it was the Kiwis who were the first out of the starting blocks. Bombarding the Slovakian box with high balls, all 3 strikers were lining up for their chance to make history. Chirs Killen had perhaps the best chance of the half when his header was gathered at the second attempt by the Slovakian keeper.
But as the half wore on the Slovakians began to settle into the game. Their defensive line pushed forward, and as a result Tony Lochhead and Simon Elliot were unable to consistantly press down the wing, all but drying up the service to Rory Fallon that had been so dangerous throughout the first 30 minutes.
Slovakian Vladimir Weiss junior was the biggest threat for the first timers, his scintillating runs often exposed the inexperience of Tommy Smith, as well as the lack of pace from old boy Ivan Vicelich. Often switching flanks, he was one of the few players on the pitch who looked comfortable in possession – and also capable of having a massive impact on the game. The dynamic 20yr old is certainly going to be one to watch out for in the future.
Yet the All Whites back line held firm, with perhaps the hairiest moment of the half coming from keeper Mark Paston’s swing and a miss as he tried to clear his lines. In the exact same goal where England keeper Robert Green made THAT error against the U.S., it looked as though another calamity was on the cards as Paston embarrassingly missed the ball with his left. However his defence came to the rescue as the Ball was herded out for a corner kick.
Paston redeemed himself moments later by palming away a shot from distance just before half time, however 5 minutes after the restart he was beaten.
New Zealand were a different side after the break. Sloppy in possession, they allowed Slovakia plenty of space, climaxing on 50 minutes when Stanislav Sestak crossed for a poorly marked Robert Vittek to head into the bottom corner. 1-0
Slovakia then seemed content to sit back. Not really pressing for the killer blow, they were happy to let the All Whites pass the ball around in front of them – without really allowing them into the final third. Slovakia only really threatened when Sestak again found Vittek in the box. But this time hero Winston Reid was there to put his body on the line, throwing himself in front of the ball as New Zealand became determined not to let another World Cup pass them by without recording a single point.
So with more perspiration than inspiration, New Zealand looked all out of idea’s up front as the final whistle approached, and it was not until injury time that the All Whites finally got the chances that they deserved. Shane Smeltz had the first, but his header was just wide of the mark after a fantastic cross from Lochhead. Smeltz then turned provider for Winston Reid’s small piece of sporting history. With his back to goal, Smeltz turned on a sixpence as he chipped a high ball in from the edge of the box, and 6ft 3 defender Reid arrived to expertly nod the ball into the keepers bottom left – post then in. 1-1.
Cue jubilation from the Kiwi bench as Reid removed his shirt and saluted the All Whites faithful, and cue the visable devastation from the Slovakians. 30 seconds away from a winning World Cup debut, their coach Vladamir Weiss Senior later described it as ” a small sporting tragedy”, while goal scorer Vitteck summed up the Slovakian mood:
“It is so disappointing to lose a goal in the 94th minute. It is just a nightmare. We could have had three points and at the end it felt like we have lost the match.”
Meanwhile the mood down under is very different. With all media outlets describing the result as a 1-1 victory, Coach Ricki Herbert summed up the feelings of a nation:
“We are very, very proud. You would have to say this is our best ever result.”
Goal hero Reid was booked for removing his shirt during his celebration, but as he dried his tears with the white shirt you knew that nothing would ever take this moment away from the young defender – describing it as “the most important goal of my life”. With captain marvel Ryan Nelsen at his side, Reid now had the foundations for an excellent campaign, and we can expect to hear a lot more from the up and coming right back as the tournament progresses.
Group F is now finely poised with each team on a single point, and even though the Kiwi’s have Italy up next, people around New Zealand are starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, the All Whites have at least one more night of sporting history ahead of them.
- 01 Paston
- 03 Lochhead (Yellow card)
- 04 Reid (Yellow card)
- 06 Nelsen
- 19 Smith
- 05 Ivan Vicelich (Christie, 78)
- 07 Simon Elliott (c)
- 11 Bertos
- 09 Smeltz
- 10 Killen (Wood, 72)
- 14 Fallon
- 01 Mucha
- 03 Skrtel
- 04 Cech
- 05 Zabavnik
- 06 Strba (Yellow card)
- 07 Weiss
- 16 Durica
- 17 Hamsik (c) (Juraj Kucka, 90+1)
- 09 Sestak (Holosko, 81)
- 11 Vittek (Stoch, 84)
- 18 Jendrisek