By BARRY HATTON Associated Press Writer
RUSTENBURG, South Africa(AP)—Winston Reid didn’t think twice about stripping off his shirt in celebration of his big goal. The yellow card he would receive wasn’t even a consideration.
“It probably was the most important goal of my life,” Reid said Tuesday after scoring in second-half injury time to lift New Zealand into a 1-1 draw with Slovakia in Group F. “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.”
Which he did before sprinting to the sideline, his shirt removed, as teammates chased him.
“I will take it,” Reid said of the yellow card. “It was worth it.”
Born in Auckland, he moved to Denmark at age 10 and is a citizen of the country. He only switched his allegiance back to New Zealand this year.
That seems to be worth it, too.
“At the beginning, I was weighing my options up,” Reid said. “I feel I made the right decision, not because of the goal but because of the feeling in the team.”
The feeling in the Slovakian team was not quite so upbeat.
“We were the better team over the game,” coach Vladimir Weiss said. “It’s a pity we didn’t take (advantage of) our chances.”
Robert Vittek scored early in the second half, giving Slovakia the lead. But Reid sneaked behind the defense to take a long cross from Shane Smeltz and tie it.
The Kiwis are ranked 78th in the world, 44 spots above Slovakia, which is in its first World Cup as an independent nation.
Slovakia’s goal came in the 50th minute when Stanislav Sestak crossed from the right side. Reid missed his defensive header, allowing Vittek to scored from close range at the far post.
Vittek nearly doubled the lead in the 69th minute on a counterattack, but goalkeeper Mark Paston was quick off his line and made the save.
All four teams have one point in Group F. Italy and Paraguay drew 1-1 Monday.
Reid’s strike gave New Zealand its first point at a World Cup after going winless in its 1982 debut.
“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,” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said. “But we kept coming, the boys kept coming.”
Both teams are regarded as outsiders in South Africa, and Tuesday’s performance was ragged at 38,646-capacity Royal Bafokeng Stadium, which was two-thirds full.
Slovakia, which surprised the Czech Republic and Poland in qualifying, was the more polished team and created most scoring chances. But New Zealand needed only one good opportunity to gain a point.
New Zealand’s tight man-to-man defense choked Slovakia’s disjointed attempts to move forward in the early stages. Soon, though, the Slovaks found some rhythm.
Sestak cut into the area in the 27th minute to meet a pass from Vladimir Weiss, the Slovakia coach’s son, but sent his shot just past Paston’s left post.
Paston miscued on a clearance in the 33rd, allowing Vittek to pounce. But the striker hesitated on the ball and was closed down by the defense.
Rory Fallon put Smeltz into scoring position inside the Slovakian area in the 38th, but he fired the ball into the side netting, then Paston tipped a curling shot from Marek Hamsik over the crossbar.
Slovakia looked poised to extend its lead when a counter-attack had New Zealand backpedaling before Vittek squandered his chance in front of the goal.
It proved costly when the Kiwis struck for the last-minute equalizer.
“We still have two heavyweights to go and they will be tough,” Herbert said. “I think it was a strong performance today. I think we showed the kind of football we play now is conducive to results.”