All Whites tear up script as last-gasp Reid goal snatches historic point
New Zealand 1
With one flick of his head, Winston Reid made himself a New Zealand sporting icon. Not bad for a man who was borderline Danish three months ago.
The centre-back came from nowhere in the third minute of injury-time to score the goal that brought New Zealand their first ever point in World Cup finals.
Born in New Zealand, Reid moved to Denmark aged 10 and represented his adopted home at U-21 level. He plays for Midtjylland in the Danish league.
In March, he took a decision that yesterday became the best of his life. "I was torn between the countries for a long time," he said.
"I was asking myself, am I a Kiwi or a Dane? Now my hope is to play in a higher league. I hope this will launch football in New Zealand."
Reid's goal sent both nations into shock. Slovakia, technically superior but tepid and conservative, especially once Robert Vittek had scored early in the second half, had not looked like conceding to tidy but benign opponents.
"This is a small tragedy for us," said Vladimir Weiss, the Slovakian coach. With Italy and Paraguay to come in group F, Slovakia must feel that they are fatally wounded.
There are outsiders, long shots and New Zealand. They are a motley crew captained by Ryan Nelsen, of Blackburn, but mainly comprising lower-league and even non-league players, some of whom are amateurs. Shane Smeltz, who set up Reid, is a former Mansfield and AFC Wimbledon striker who was released by Halifax in 2007.
So they arrived in South Africa with nothing to lose -- except, potentially, three matches, pride and credibility. Now they have more points than Australia.
"Can it get any better? This team's created history," said coach Ricki Herbert, who was a member of the squad that lost all three of their fixtures in 1982, New Zealand's only previous appearance at the finals. "It would have to be our greatest result."
Next up are Italy. "Who knows what the Italians might do to us -- or not?" Herbert said. "We have no fear."
A fixture between two of the least populous countries in the tournament played in the middle of nowhere at lunchtime was not a smash with the public. The crowd of 23,871 was the lowest at any World Cup finals since Mexico '86.
The result, though, made small beautiful. (© The Times, London)
New Zealand -- M Paston, W Reid, R Nelsen, T Smith, L Bertos, S Elliott, I Vicelich (J Christie 77), T Lochhead, R Fallon, S Smeltz, C Killen (C Wood 72).
Slovakia -- J Mucha, R Zabavnik, J Durica, M Skrtel, M Cech, Z Strba, V Weiss (J Kucka 90), M Hamsik, R Vittek (M Stoch 85), S Sestak (F Holosko 81), E Jendrisek.
REF -- J Damon.