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All Whites can take positives from last gasp defeat



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Austalia 2 – 1 New Zealand. 

Much was made before the game (in some small part by me) of the ‘no holds barred’ attitude that New Zealand would have for this fixture. Yet it was Australia who were guilty of some horrific challenges during the first half, with the Australians lucky to still have 11 men on the field by the end of the game.

It almost seemed as though the Aussies had a sort of personal vendetta against Leo Bertos‘ right leg. Firstly was Vincent Grella‘s moment of madness with a 2 footed lunge at a sliding Bertos, which left the All White needing treatment on the sideline before being helped back to his feet. The American referee deeming it only a bookable offence, although with the benefit of a replay, he would have been well within his rights to show a straight red.

Then next came Tim Cahill‘s turn to assault his lower right limb, sliding in for a tackle whilst raising his leg, which in turn caught Bertos’ shin as he attempted to ride the tackle, sending the midfielder spectacularly through the air before crashing to the ground.  Again the referee deemed it only a bookable offence, however this time Bertos was unable to continue, and was replaced by the up and coming Winston Reid.

Bertos is expected to be fit for their next game against Serbia on the 29th, however both managers were quick to condemn the tackles in their post match interviews. Ricki Herbert said that he was “disappointed” by the challenges, and conceded that the game might have ended differently had the game not been a friendly:

“Probably in a normal game we would have been up against nine.”

Australian Coach Pim Verbeek was also quick to scold his players about their over enthusiastic challenges:

“I think that you can only complement New Zealand that they behaved themselves. They were very professional, my players were not.”

So, to the football then:

As much as i am opposed to using old adages from the football lexicon, this was the epitome of a game of two halves. The All whites – for all of their strength, courage, and inspiration in the first half – were timid and unadventurous throughout the second. Their only real chance of the half coming from a Rory Fallon header on 70 minutes, which was unfortunately straight down the throat of substitute keeper Brad Jones.

Their lack luster 45 minutes was possibly down to the changes made throughout the game by Coach Ricki Herbert, as he looks to assess all his options before the start of their World Cup campaign on June 15th. However, if his initial 11 can deliver performances like the one seen in the opening 45 minutes, then New Zealanders can look forward to some good results next month in South Africa.

The game started at a cautious pace, with both sides retaining their shape and not wanting to give much away during the opening 10 minutes. But it was New Zealand who threatened first in front of a 55,000 strong crowd at the MCG. On 16 minutes Shane Smeltz flicked on a Simon Elliot cross into the path of Chris Killen, who showed tremendous strength and composure to hold off the defender, before slotting a goal past the Aussie keeper. 1-0

New Zealand then continued to dominate right up untill half time, with Rory Fallon a constant aerial threat up front, while the midfield supplied some teasing balls in and around the box.  Killen again had a great opportunity to make it 2, showing great technique to scissor kick the ball goal bound, only to see it crash of the post and out for a goal kick.

Australia were still keen to remind the All Whites of their superior FIFA ranking though, Tim Cahill showing flashes of genius as he skipped through the field with the ball at his feet. However their possession was few and far between with their only real chance falling to Craig Mcdonald who was far too casual with the finish, opting to side foot it towards goal instead of injecting more Venom, leaving Mark Paston with the simplest of blocks.

The half time whistle could not come soon enough for the Socceroos, who accepted this game on the notion that New Zealand would provide a more physical/European sort of test than that of the Asian teams they had vanquished on the road to the finals. They were probably beginning to regret that decision at half time, with the frustration of the players clear from some of the tackles they had rushed into.

You could have forgiven Verbeek for sticking with his stronger side at half time in order to salvage some sort of pride from what was, quite clearly, a losing battle. However he made wholesale changes before the second half, replacing the house hold names with those who are still fighting for a seat on the plane, and it was to a devastating effect.

Australia’s first goal had an air of fortune about it, with a wicked deflection falling to the young Dario Vidosic on the corner of the 6 yard box, who was composed enough to smash the ball though Paston and into the back of the net. 1-1.

Australia then continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, though without threatening the Kiwi goal too often as Nelsen’s strong defensive line held up. It was even beginning to look as though New Zealand might hold out for a respectable draw, which perhaps would have been a fair result given the contrast between the two teams in each half. However that was not to be, and with the last kick of the game Carl Valeri chipped a sublime ball over the top of the All Whites defence, and Brett Holman stole in behind and stole the game for the Socceroos, slotting the ball past a despairing Mark Paston and capping another victory for Australia in the Trans Tasman derby.2-1

The circumstances of the defeat will have been crushing for the All Whites. However they can take a lot of heart from their performance, with an upbeat Ricki Herbert summing it up:

“Maybe we surprised (people in Australia) with our performance but it was a good positive statement of what we are about and where we are at and although we have got a lot of work to do yet leading into the World Cup, I was very pleased.”

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I have just moved to New Zealand, away from the U.K. and my beloved Bolton Wanderers, and have set up camp in perhaps the least football savvy city in NZ; Auckland. But New Zealand is a country where 'soccer' is on the rise, either due to the influx of British ex pats yearning to fill the void left by vacant saturday afternoons, or the first All Whites qualification for a world cup since the 1982 finals. Whatever the reason, this summers (or NZ winters) atmosphere here in NZ promises to electric, and i'm going to follow it every step of the way. I have written the occasional blog in the past for various reasons, but i have never written for football, which is strange as i live and breathe it, so it'll be an emotional journey for the both of us. I'm sure we'll get there in the end though, through what promises to be an amazing World cup 2010. COME ON YOU WHITES!!!!