New Zealand snatch a point in dramatic circumstances in injury time...
New Zealand claimed their first ever World Cup finals point with a dramatic equaliser in stoppage time from defender Winston Reid with just seconds remaining on the clock.
Slovakia had thought they had done just enough to win after Robert Vittek had given them the lead with an excellent back post header from a superb Vladimir Weiss cross from the right. In a match in which the Kiwis had more than held their own, they will feel they richly deserved their point as every member of the side played above themselves.
As with most games in this tournament, it was a pedestrian start on a bright but chilly day in Rustenburg in the far north of South Africa. The Kiwis refused to buckle under the intensity of the occasion and more than held their own in the first half. Indeed, the All Whites had the best of the first half, threatening the Slovakian goal early on when Chris Killen got on the end of a Simon Elliott free-kick. Unfortunately for the underdogs, his tame header was straight at Jan Mucha though to his credit, Martin Skrtel did just enough to impede the tall Middlesbrough striker.
Slovakia struggled to create many chances in the first half and were surprised by both the New Zealand's back three and their resolute determination. Their best moments came unsurprisingly from Vladimir Weiss who was the first to test Paston early on after some neat trickery down the right hand side. The Manchester City winger was instrumental in the Slovaks best opportunity when he played in Sestak who fired wide. Marek Hamsik also began to come into the game as the half progressed with the increasingly frustrated Slovakians looking to involve their star man in every move. The Napoli midfielder forced a smart save from Mark Paston just before the break.
There were some nervous moments for the Kiwis as Paston struggled from corners on occasions. Ricki Herbert's heart skipped a beat when the keeper lost his balance attempting to clear the ball upfield however he recovered well to deny Robert Vittek and limit the danger to the corner. Kiwi topscorer Shane Smeltz had been largely anonymous however he stung the palms of Everton-bound Jan Mucha eight minutes before the break with a smart left foot volley which was tipped into the side netting.
Towards the end of the first half, the Slovaks began to pile on the pressure and though the sides were level at the break, a goal was on the cards. The central Europeans shook off the cobwebs of their below par opening half when the took the lead less than five minutes after the break thanks to Ankaragucu striker Robert Vittek.
The former Lille frontman received a huge confidence boost when he headed a superb Weiss cross in at the far post beyond Paston. New Zealand may feel a touch aggrieved as replays indicated that Sestak may have been marginally offside however the assistant referee gave the benefit of any doubt to the attacking side.
New Zealand however steadfastly refused to roll over and they dusted themselves down after the goal knocking the ball about with ease though also without any real penetration. They created few notable opportunities in the second half other than a volley from Fallon which sailed high over the crossbar and a golden chance which fell to topscorer Shane Smeltz who somehow contrived to direct his header well wide of the target.
However with seconds remaining, Smeltz atoned for his previous aberration with the cross for Winston Reid's last gasp equaliser. It was a fitting end to what had been an admirable performance from a defender who had only committed himself to play for the All Whites in March having previously represented Denmark. Earlier in the second half, the right-sided centreback denied Robert Vittek the chance to double the lead and surely put New Zealand to bed with a magnificent sliding challenge.
All in all, a great sporting moment for New Zealand which symbolised the beauty of a truly global World Cup.