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FIFA World Cup: Reid earns New Zealand last gasp draw against Slovakia

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winston_reid_goal_celebration.jpgNew Zealand scored in injury time to share the spoils with Slovakia in the second Group F fixture of the FIFA World Cup. A last gasp goal from All Whites defender Winston Reid spoiled a debut appearance of the Slovakians on world football's biggest stage as the match ended 1-1. A goal early into the second half from Slovak striker Robert Vittek seemed to be enough to give the debutants a vital win in Group F but Reid's added time goal changed the equation dramatically. The match was low on quality but high on enterprise as both teams knew well enough that with Italy and Paraguay in the offing, three points today could make a difference between an early flight home and an extended footballing adventure in South African paradise.

The ‘Battle of the Minnows' in Group F kicked off at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg as New Zealand took on Slovakia in their first match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With Italy and Paraguay enduring a scored draw yesterday, the two unfancied teams had a chance to stake their claims for an unlikely spot in the last 16. There may be a genuine dearth of crowd-pullers from either sides, but team work, grit and spirit seem to have become the buzzwords in the present edition of the quadrennial event so far. With both the Kiwis and Slovakians possessing the same gritty qualities, it promised to be yet another tactical and scrappy battle in the middle.

Slovakia boasted of some known names for those in tune with European football. Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and VfL Bochum striker Stanislav Sestak (scored 28 times in the Bundesliga last season) were there to add more than a pinch of quality to what seemed a dull contest on paper. New Zealand on the other hand had Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith (the 20-year old making a name for himself at Ipswich Town) and striker Shane Smeltz (who has topped the scoring charts in the A-League for the past couple of seasons) to give a decent account of themselves.

jendrisek_lochhead.jpgHistorically, the match was significant for both sides with Slovakia making their debut in the FIFA World Cup while the Kiwis entered the competition only for the second time in their footballing history searching for their first ever points. New Zealand had three strikers upfront - Rory Fallen, Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen - but their formation was more like 4-3-2-1. Slovakia on the other hand were aligned as 4-1-3-2 with Sestak, the star forward playing just behind Erik Jendrisek and Robert Vittek.

The match started with the All Whites number 10 Chris Killen involved in a couple of early chances - first, with an audacious chip in the 3rd minute and then with a header straight to Jan Mucha in the Slovakian goal from a set piece situation. With the tall imposing frames of Chris Killen and Rory Fallon, the Kiwis' policy of targeting the two with aerial balls seemed to give them the fillip in the early stages.

Slovakia on the other hand seemed content to absorb the pressure and hit back with the pace up front of Weiss, Sestak and the class of skipper Hamsik to complement them. A neat interplay between Sestak and Weiss in the 28th minute resulted in Sestak getting a powerful shot away that was wide off the goal. It was a rare move of note from the Slovakians who found the New Zealand defence a tough wall to breach.

A horror miss-kick from Kiwi keeper Mark Paston almost gave Vittek a chance to inflict some damage in the 32nd minute but the New Zealand defence got the bodies in place and Vittek could only earn a corner for his side. Vittek was again in the action in the 35th minute when his left footed shot from 25 yards flew wide of Paston's goal. New Zealand replied with a shot of their own as Shane Smeltz found the side netting in the 38th minute after some neat interplay with Rory Fallon. It was an error strewn phase of the game with both defences suddenly looking nervy. Marek Hamsik had a decent effort at goal from 30 yards out, but Paston fisted it away for a corner in the 43rd minute.

The half came to an end soon after with both sides' enterprise easily drowned by the raucous vuvuzelas. Mistakes had crept in towards the end but neither side could profit from them. The second half beckoned both teams in their quest for a valuable 3 points.

The Slovakians were off to the perfect start when Vittek headed them into the lead in the 50th minute. The striker was probably in an off side position much to the chagrin of the New Zealand camp but the score line had changed in Slovakia's favour. It was the enterprising Vladimir Weiss who along with Sestak worked out the opportunity for Vittek who made no mistake (albeit from an off side position). The goal early into the half set up the match tantalisingly as the Kiwis now had little option but to commit more men forward. For the Slovakians, it was the perfect setting with their formation as they could now sit back and just wait to get the decisive blow on the counter.

Vladimir Weiss almost delivered the fatal blow in the 56th minute when he traipsed around a series of defenders before getting a heavy touch that allowed Paston to rush and collect the ball. The Kiwis to their credit were full of running and looking to make up for the apparent lack in quality by their inherent grit. The Slovaks on their part, wasted a couple of decent opportunities to work Paston and put the game beyond the reach of the men from New Zealand.

The pattern was getting all to consistent in the last 20 minutes with New Zealand camping in the opposing half and Slovakia being profligate after working up decent opportunities on the counter. Shane Smeltz found some space in the 88th minute and looked certain to head the equalizer home, but his effort flew wide off the goal. That seemed to be the last of the action as the Kiwis seemed condemned to a morale sapping defeat.

However, a fairy tale ending was in store for the All Whites as central defender Winston Reid, who had stayed forward, headed a hopeful cross into the back of the net as the Kiwis went wild. The goal was scored in added time and left the Slovaks with little or no time to even contemplate a fight back. The final whistle blew soon after as both teams ended on level terms. It was a terrific match for the neutrals and the goal at the end was just the topping it needed.

"We've got a really proud dressing room there. We came across with intentions to make a difference and we've done that. I thought we played very well against a highly ranked team so I'm very proud," said coach Herbert.

The task for the two teams is now significantly tougher as they now square up against Italy and Paraguay in their next round of fixtures. Slovakia are up first as they take on the South American surprise package on Sunday the 20th of June in the early kick-off, followed by New Zealand - Italy later in the day. A win for either side today would have made the group interesting, but as things stand, you would have to back Italy and Paraguay to stroll through the group and clinch a place in the last 16.

Teams:

New Zealand: Paston, Nelsen, Smith, Reid, Vicelich (Chrisie 78'), Elliott, Lochhead, Bertos, Fallon, Smeltz, Killen (Wood 72')

Slovakia: Mucha, Skrtl, Durica, Cech, Zabavnik, Strba, Hamsik, Weiss (Kucka 90'+1), Jendrisek, Sestak (Holosko 81'), Vittek (Stoch 84')

New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia
Vittek (Slovakia) 50'
Reid (New Zealand) (90' +2)

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Italy 1 - 1 Paraguay

Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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