Ricki Herbert’s All Whites have given long-suffering New Zealand football fans real hope for the future after producing a gritty 1-1 draw against Estonia in Tallinn on Thursday (NZT).
Danny HayDanny Hay proved New Zealand’s captain fantastic with a 27th minute equaliser after Estonian winger Ragnar Klavan had stunned the All Whites with a third minute goal on the break.
The result, against a team rated 39 places above New Zealand in the latest FIFA world rankings, proved Sunday’s historic 3-1 win over Georgia was no fluke and was a reassuring dress-rehearsal ahead of Monday’s dream date with World Cup favourites Brazil in Switzerland.
It was just New Zealand’s second draw in Europe in 42 years of trying following a 1-1 draw in Scotland in 2003 and came just three days after Estonia held world No 12 Turkey to a 1-1 draw in Germany.
“These are two massive results for us,” an emotional Herbert explained.
“If we’d come over here and drawn one match, we’d have been really happy. But we’ve over delivered and really grasped some creditability in the hotbed of Europe.
“We’ve made six changes tonight so the players deserve all the accolades they get because they’re performing on and off the pitch. I mean we’re playing teams ranked well above us and performing, controlling the game and scoring goals…there’s a real belief, some real confidence now.
“It’s given us a lot of confidence around the quantity of players we have as well as the quality.”
Hay was again a colossus in central defence, winning everything in the air against Estonia’s two big targetmen Vjatseslav Zahovaiko and Klavan and producing a crucial and perfectly timed slide tackle on Tarmo Neemelo in the box with 22 minutes remaining.
The unattached Kiwi captain’s reward was a second international goal, a right footed effort from seven yards after the ball spilled to Hay following a goal-mouth melee from David Mulligan’s freekick.
It was timely too after New Zealand’s disastrous start when Jarrod Smith lost possession to Kristen Viikmae who speed to the by-line before cutting the ball back to the far post for Klavan to squeeze his shot under Ross Nicholson.
All Whites assistant coach Brian Turner said Hay “continues to amaze me game after game”, sentiments echoed by Herbert.
“I’ve just said to him he was outstanding and to take three days off,” Herbert said with an eye to Monday’s match against Brazil.
“I’m running out of words for him. He’s just oozed class and leadership today. Just his dominance in the air, he competes and gets in front of players and not only that, he’s even intercepting balls and linking a lot of our play going forward.”
If Hay was New Zealand’s standout, then new RKC Waalwijk signing Ivan Vicelich and Hibernian striker Chris Killen were not far behind.
Vicelich gives New Zealand a reliable and cool-headed outlet from his midfield holding role while Killen’s ability in the air and skill at holding up the ball with his back to goal adds real attacking bite to the All Whites’ game.
Skilful Team Wellington midfielder Raf De Gregorio also directed a lot of New Zealand’s play before being substituted in the 65th minute.
“They [Estonia] couldn’t work it out could they? They just reverted to long balls,” Herbert said.
“I mean how many saves has Ross Nicholson had to make. None. It was tight but we had a lot of ball which is encouraging…we were able to dictate for long periods.”
Herbert insists the tour should be regarded an overwhelming success regardless of the score against Brazil in Geneva.
“I think we’ve proven we’re competitive with those teams ranked in the top 70 and the next one? Who knows,’ he said.
“Brazil can beat anyone at anytime by any score so we’ve just got to go and do the best we can. We don’t want to get hammered but it can happen…Germany beat Luxemburg 7-0 the other night.
“It’s a massive step up for us. I mean we’re talking the World Cup favourites, a potential viewing audience of a billion, a thousand media, a game that sold out in a week. They’ve sold 55,000 tickets to their trainings….
“It’s out there as one of the biggest events in the world…it’s just nice to be on the same pitch.”
May 31, 2006
Estonia 1 (Ragnar Klavan 3) New Zealand 1 (Danny Hay 27). Halftime: 1-1.
New Zealand: Ross Nicholson, Kris Bouckenoghe, Che Bunce, Danny Hay (captain), Michael Wilson, Ivan Vicelich, Jarrod Smith (Jeremy Brockie 46), Raf De Gregorio (Jeremy Christie 65), David Mulligan (Andrew Barron 82), Adrian Webster (Leo Bertos 46), Chris Killen (Vaughan Coveny 82).
Estonia: Artur Kotenko, Teet Allas, Andrei Stepanov, Enar Jaager, Dmitri Kruglov, Aleksandr Dmitrijev, Kristen Viikmae (Sergei Terehhov 75), Joel Lindpere, Tarmo Neemelo, Vjatseslav Zahovaiko (Konstantin Vassiljev 66), Ragnar Klavan.
New Zealand: None
Referee: Peter Rasmussen (Denmark)