World Cup: New Zealand scores late for 1-1 draw with Slovakia
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
RUSTENBURG, South Africa – Winston Reid headed in an injury-time goal Tuesday to give New Zealand a 1-1 draw with Slovakia at the World Cup.
Shane Smeltz crossed the ball for Reid to head in at the near post, giving New Zealand its first point at a World Cup after going winless in its debut in 1982.
“It probably was the most important goal of my life,” Reid said. “I didn’t see the ball until late. I knew that if I got it on target and didn’t hit it too hard, I could just guide it in.”
Robert Vittek had given Slovakia the lead in the 50th minute, heading in a cross from Stanislav Sestak after Reid let him move free.
“Tonight’s a special night for me, I couldn’t be any prouder,” said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, who turned to Kiwi fans in the bleachers and pumped his arms in celebration after the late leveller.
“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,” Herbert said. “But we kept coming, the boys kept coming.”
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss, who is leading his country in its first international tournament since Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, said his players were deflated after surrendering their lead.
“This is a minor sporting tragedy for us,” Weiss said. “We were the better team over the game. It’s a pity we didn’t take our chances.”
All four teams have one point in Group F. Italy and Paraguay drew 1-1 Monday.
Both New Zealand and Slovakia are regarded as outsiders in South Africa, and after Tuesday’s ragged performance, they will both struggle against their group rivals.
“We still have two heavyweights to go and they will be tough,” Herbert said. “It was a strong performance today. I think we showed the kind of football we play now is conducive to results.”
Slovakia, which upset the Czech Republic and Poland in qualifying, was the more polished team and created most of the game’s scoring chances.
New Zealand’s tight man-to-man marking choked Slovakia’s disjointed attempts to move forward in the early stages, while the tall Kiwi strikers menaced the Slovakian defense but struggled to create clear opportunities.
With neither team able to produce entertaining football, the crowd occasionally put down their vuvuzelas to do the wave.
Sestak cut into the area in the 27th to meet a pass from Vladimir Weiss but sent his shot just past Mark Paston’s left post.
Paston miscued a clearance in the 33rd, allowing Vittek to pounce, but the Slovakia striker dawdled on the ball and was closed down by the Kiwi defense.
Rory Fallon put Smeltz into scoring position inside the Slovakian area in the 38th but he sent the ball into the side netting, then Paston tipped a curling shot from Marek Hamsik over the bar.
Vittek’s goal spurred Slovakia while New Zealand still couldn’t develop any forward momentum.
“Some of the quality of the movement up front could be better and we’ll work on that,” Herbert said. The All Whites next meet Italy on Sunday.
Sestak was a constant threat for the New Zealand’s central defensive pair. He set up Hamsik for a clear shot in the 64th but the Slovakian captain scooped the ball high over the bar.
Slovakia looked poised to extend its lead when a counter-attack had the New Zealand backpedalling before Vittek squandered his 68th-minute chance in front of goal.
The Kiwis replaced Chris Killen with Chris Wood in the 71st, though it was Smeltz who in the final minutes missed the first clear chance to equalize when he headed wide from close range.
The 38,646-capacity Royal Bafokeng Stadium was only two-thirds full for the match.
New Zealand: Mark Paston, Tony Lochhead, Winston Reid, Ivan Vicelich (Jeremy Christie, 78), Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott, Shane Smeltz, Chris Killen (Chris Wood, 72), Leo Bertos, Rory Fallon, Tommy Smith.
Slovakia: Jan Mucha, Martin Skrtel, Marek Cech, Radoslav Zabavnik, Zdeno Strba, Vladimir Weiss (Juraj Kucka, 90), Stanislav Sestak (Filip Holosko, 81), Robert Vittek (Miroslav Stoch, 84), Jan Durica, Marek Hamsik, Erik Jendrisek.