Steven Old picked the perfect time to score his first international goal as the All Whites ended their three and a half year home hiatus with a deserved 1-0 win over Malaysia in Christchurch today.
The 20-year-old central defender poked home from point-blank range in the 87th minute following a goalmouth melee sparked by Andy Barron’s freekick to send a 10,100-strong QEII Park crowd into raptures.
“It’s brilliant…I’m so overjoyed,” Old, playing in just his sixth international, told nzsoccer.com afterwards.
“It would have been nice for Cov [Vaughan Coveny] to have scored to get the record for New Zealand. But it’s my first goal for New Zealand and you won’t get the smile off my face for a very, very long time.
“It didn’t hit me until the crowd started screaming and the guys ran over to congratulate me…all the emotion came together.”
Old’s goal was nothing more than New Zealand deserved in a match they dominated for all but the 25 minutes leading up to halftime only to be left frustrated by a bumpy, rock hard pitch and some sloppy finishing.
The All Whites created 23 chances to Malaysia’s three, 16 of them in the second half when man-of-the-match Leo Bertos showed his at times dazzling skills down the left flank.
Bertos switched from the right wing at halftime and regularly got in behind Malaysia’s flat back four to whip in quality crosses. Midfielder Tim Brown cannoned one of the Scarborough winger’s balls off the crossbar while teenager Jeremy Brockie, who made his debut as a 68th minute substitute, side-footed another Bertos ball wide.
Coveny was rushed in from Australia in an attempt to set an All Whites scoring record and went agonisingly close in the 72nd minute of his 72nd international, first having a header palmed onto the crossbar by Malaysian keeper Mohd Syamsuri before volleying the rebound into the woodwork again.
“We were quite unfortunate at times but we stuck together. That’s football…you can win in the first minute of the 87th minute,” Old said.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert was thrilled his largely inexperienced and new look team turned their dominance into a win, New Zealand’s first since the 10-0 thrashing of Tahiti at the Oceania Nations Cup-World Cup qualifying tournament in Adelaide in June 2004.
“The boys were really nervous all week but the worked fantastically well in training and to get over the line straight away in 2006…I’m just so pleased for them,” he said.
Herbert was delighted with the performance of Barron who joined largely redundant goalkeeper Glen Moss, Brockie and Melbourne-based Cantabrian Jeff Fleming as one of four All Whites debutants.
Barron was everywhere and had a shot palmed to safety in stoppage time.
“You look at a guy like Andy Barron, where was he six months ago? He’s one of the lads that’s come in from the NZFC and I thought his second half performance was quite outstanding.
“It’s a long time for us to lead into the 2010 World Cup and we’re looking for players who can step up. He’s taken the first step.”
Herbert was also impressed by Bertos’ showing.
“When we went to London last year we were not quite sure he was right to play against that opponent [Australia]. But he took his chance today, particularly in the second half. We told him to play, to take players on.
“He’s exciting and was quite outstanding in the second half.”
Herbert agreed the big Canterbury crowd had played a part in the getting the All Whites home and acknowledged their support given the national team’s long home hiatus.
New Zealand dominated the opening 25 minutes with Adrian Webster, Steven Old and Danny Hay all heading over the crossbar as the All Whites took advantage of their superior height from set pieces.
Bertos was just wide with a couple of shots including a curling free-kick while Brent Fisher hit the near-post side-netting after being put into space with a clever ball from Bertos.
Pacy frontrunner Mohd Safee Mohd Sali looked Malaysia’s most dangerous player but the Asian Cup co-hosts created just two clear-cut chances and neither threatened All Whites debutant Glen Moss in goal.
Christchurch, New Zealand
19 February, 2006
NZ 1 (Old,87) Malaysia 0 Halftime: 0-0.
New Zealand: Glen Moss, Jeremy Christie, Danny Hay (captain), Steven Old, Noah Hickey, Leo Bertos, Tim Brown (Jeff Fleming 77), Andrew Barron, Adrian Webster (Jeremy Brockie 68), Brent Fisher (Shane Smeltz 68), Vaughan Coveny.
Malaysia: Chan Wing Hoong, Ronny Harun, Norhafiz Zamani Misbah, Thirumuruhan Veeran, Mozid Syamsuri, Mohd Safee Moha Sali, Mohd Amri Yahyah (Mohd Fadzli Saari 60), R. Surendren, Rudie Ramli, Mohamad Hardi Jaafar, Nantharumar Kalliappan.