After the highs of last week’s narrow victory over Serbia, New Zealand were yesterday schooled in the consequences of missed opportunities by a very capable Slovenian side . Slovenia may not have carved out goal scoring chances with aplomb, but the chances they did create were taken with devastating effect.
Before the game the Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek went on record to say that beautiful football was his priority over the next 2 month’s, and in many ways he didn’t disappoint. With his favoured 11 all starting the match and the home crowd behind them, Slovenia played with confidence, playing an excellent short passing game which looks as though it may even give England the run around in 2 weeks time.
However, the rough that comes with this Slovenian smooth would be their star player’s love for the theatrics. Milivoje Novakovic ‘Simulation’ on the edge of the All Whites area led to their first two goals, however nothing can be taken away from the free kicks that followed.
After signalling their intent by flashing a ball past the kiwi goal after 30 seconds of play, Slovenia then continued to dominate possession, climaxing after 7 minutes with Novakovic’s first dive ‘simulation’. After minimal contact with Ryan Nelsen 20yrds in front of the goal, Novokovic curled a free kick round the wall from right to left, past a despairing Mark Paston and into the top right corner- a free kick that even Ronaldo would have been proud of. 1-0
The All Whites responded well, Chris wood missing a few good chances, before finally heading the ball on for Rory Fallon to smash past the keeper with his left on 20 minutes – only his 3rd goal at international level. 1-1
The Dragon’s then hit back ten minutes later, Novakovic this time with an Oscar winning dive ‘simulation’ after a slight tug on the shirt. In an almost identical position to his last, Novakovic chose Pastons bottom left hand corner to effortlessly pass the ball into. 2-1
It was then New Zealands turn to attack, Shane Smeltz shaving the upright with a shot from distance, before Chris woods was guilty of missing a golden opportunity to make it 2-2. Ryan Nelsen this time the provider with a flick on released Woods at the far post for, what should have been, a simple tap in. You could argue that the ball may have sat up just a little to high for Woods, However his side footed effort was spectacularly saved by Slovenia’s Samir Handanovič, and Woods was left to consider what might have been.
Not 5 minutes later Slovenia delivered their ‘coup de grace’- A speculative long range effort that was misjudged by keeper Mark Paston. Allowing the ball to bounce right in front of him, the keeper was unable to collect as it clattered off his chest and into the path of Andraz Kirm, who had no problem putting it into the back of the net. Paston possibly the latest addition to the list of goal keepers taking issue with the new Addidas football’s. 3-1
The second half came and, despite All Whites Coach Ricki Herbert declaring that his starting line up will only see around 30 minutes of the match through fear of injury, only 1 substitution was made (while Slovenia made 5). Chris wood making way for Jeremy Brockie after his hat trick of missed chances.
Brockie curiously played the second half with Aaron Claphams name on his back, while Captain Ryan Nelsen was sent from the field almost immediately after the restart to change his shirt to one with a number on it. Yet the change of identity did little to change the flow of the game, With Slovenia continuing to play fluid football straight through the All Whites midfield.
The back line stood firm for the second half, with the defence limiting Slovenia to just one ambitious effort from outside the area. New Zealand however, were again guilty of not taking opportunities when they came, with Fallon, Smeltz,Nelsen and Smith squandering chances to bring the Kiwi’s back into the game.
All eyes were on the New Zealand bench as 90 minutes approached, yet no substitutions came as the whistle blew to a flattering scoreline for the home side. But Herberts men can have no complaints, with more shots on target than the home side the All Whites have only themselves to blame for chances missed. And with Herbert refusing to use his bench to its capacity, you could be forgiven for thinking that he is still yet to be convinced that his first 11 is ready for their opening game on the 15th.
That being said, the All Whites still look solid enough at the back, and hopefully this will just be a case of lesson learned for the men up front.
Next stop South Africa!