Ricki Herbert put New Zealand’s fighting 1-0 loss to Chile on Friday into context by rating it the most satisfying result of his short tenure as All Whites coach.
Herbert refused to gloss over the fact Eduardo Rubio’s 35th minute header saw Chile sweep the two-match series 5-1 on aggregate.
But even Chilean coach Nelson Acosta acknowledged Herbert had been “smart” tactically in Calera by closing down his fancy footed side in midfield.
Acosta told the Chilean media his side had played well but had been contained because Herbert had “learnt the lessons” from the All Whites tour-opening 4-1 loss in Rancaguaon Wednesday.
New Zealand gained a healthy dose of creditability with their gritty fight and strung together some quality movement in the second half.
But for another defensive lapse – when Noah Hickey’s poor headed clearance led to Rubui’s winner - and Herbert could well have been dissecting a scoreless draw rather than his third loss in five matches.
¨It’s disappointing to lose an international but there’s some smiles in the dressing room considering Tuesday night [the 4-1 loss in Rancagua on Wednesday NZT]…I’ve given them a big tick,” Herbert explained.
“I’m really pleased to have come back from 4-1 down and not to have conceded a goal in the last 45 minutes. That’s a pretty huge step forward for us and it’s pretty exciting when you look at the 14 [injured or unavailable] players outside this squad.
“Hopefully tonight people can see we’re heading in the right direction.”
Herbert gave his side a pass mark for their first South American examination in 11 years and believed Friday’s result would hold his side in good stead for a possible 2010 FIFA World Cup playoff against the fifth-ranked South American side.
“If this was the World Cup game you’d take a 1-0 loss away in South America any day and you’d fancy getting a result when you got home. Let’s compare the result with an event recently when Australia lost 1-0 in Uruguay…they’re now in the World Cup,” Herbert said.
Herbert praised his back four where leftback Tony Lochhead stood up after his poor match in Rancagua and Danny Hay and Steven Old were solid centrally.
Tim Brown and Jeremy Christie were again midfield workhorses while Kris Bouckenooghe “added balance to the left of midfield¨, Herbert said.
New Zealand’s willingness to press Chile higher up the pitch saw 2.5 million euro rated Colo Colo midfielder Jorge Valdivia largely fade out of the match after an influential first half.
Acosta was also forced to inject Alexis Sanchez, who has just agreed a 3 million euro transfer to Italian club Udinese, and Manuel Iturra into the match after halftime as New Zealand pressed for an equaliser.
Lochhead went closest for New Zealand when he rifled a swerving left-footed shot agonisingly wide in the 83rd minute.
“The first game was not easy with the short period of time we had with the players…we probably stood back and were a bit tentative. But certainly in the second half tonight we had the belief to keep the ball and move players forwards and it was a remarkable difference,” Herbert said.
“We’ve just got to keep developing now.”
Herbert and co-coaches Brian Turner and Stu Jacobs will now mull over how many of the current squad are retained for New Zealand’s mouth-watering June 4 friendly against Brazil in Geneva.
New Zealand’s likely 20-strong squad will be named after May 10. The All Whites are tentively scheduled to depart for Europe on May 22, a day after the final of the Oceania Club Championship in Albany.
April 27, 2006
Chile 1(Eduardo Rubio 35) New Zealand 0. Halftime 1-0.
New Zealand: Glen Moss, Noah Hickey, Danny Hay (Che Bunce 73), Steven Old, Tony Lochhead, Tim Brown, Jeremy Christie (Jeff Fleming 83), Raf De Gregorio (CampbellBanks 59), Leo Bertos, Kris Bouckenooghe, Shane Smeltz (Paul Urlovic 59).
Chile: Miguel Pinto, Gonzalo Jara (Manuel Iturra 46), Waldo Ponce (Mauricio Zenteno 58), Claudio Munoz, Jose Contreras, Jorge Ormeno, Dagoberto Currimilla, Rodrigo Millar, Jorge Valdivia, Juan Lorca (Alexis Sanchez 58), Edaurdo Rubio (Matias Vidangossy 69).