Looking down and out with 92 minutes on the clock, a dramatic late equaliser from Winston Reid gave New Zealand their first ever World Cup point against Slovakia in their Group F clash.
Everyone likes a feel good story, an underdog succeeding against the odds, and the 2010 World Cup got its first as plucky New Zealand snatched a point in their opening game against Slovakia last night.
A header from 21 year old right back Winston Reid deep into injury time rescued a point for the All Whites after the Slovaks has taken an early second half lead through Robert Vittek.
The goal was very much route one stuff with a long kick by goalkeeper Paston flicked on by qualification hero Rory Fallon before the ball broke to Shane Smeltz just outside the left corner of the penalty area. His superb delivery found the unmarked Reid who headed low into the bottom right corner of the net.
“The first thing I did was look at the linesman to see if I was offside and after that it was great. We had just decided to stay up there and hope for the best,” said Reid.
“Look at the smiles of the players and staff and that tells you everything. We’re at the biggest stage of football and it’s great to be here.”
Indeed, the All Whites shouldn’t have had to wait that long to be level with Smeltz, the A-League’s top marksman for the last two years, missing a glorious opportunity to restore parity just minutes before.
Manager Ricki Herbert, a New Zealand player himself at the 1982 competition, declared it the nation’s greatest result ever , and the New Zealand media have been waxing lyrical about his side this morning.
“We are very, very proud. You would have to say this is our best ever result,” said Herbert.
“We have come and thrown some extremely good punches and got what I thought was a fully deserved result. It’s a special night for me, I couldn’t be any prouder,” added Herbert, whose side play Italy on Sunday.
“I thought the opening game was a good chance to get something and I would have been disappointed with a loss after conceding a goal like that. But we kept coming, the boys kept coming.”
It might be surprising to see such a lowly ranked team (78th in the world) have the testicular fortitude to go with a 3-4-3 formation on the biggest stage of them all, but it has served New Zealand well in the past and there isn’t any real reason to change it.
Next up is an even tougher clash against World Champions Italy, and while New Zealand can already hold their heads up high following this result, you wouldn’t bet against them getting another.