Victory on European soil remains frustratingly elusive for New Zealand but no longer appears beyond Ricki Herbert’s resurgent All Whites.
Herbert rated Thursday morning’s 2-0 loss to Hungary in Budapest as New Zealand’s best performance during his six-match reign as national coach.
Two sloppy second-half passes from 20-year-old central defender Steven Old cost New Zealand dearly at Szusza Ferenc Stadion as striker Szabolcs Huszti (48th) and left winger Imre Szabic (80th) ensured a winning debut for Hungarian coach Peter Bozsik.
But New Zealand’s positive attacking intent – backed up by Glen Moss’ inspired performance in goal – made it easier for Herbert to stomach Old’s unfortunate blunders on a damp Budapest night.
Leo Bertos and Chris Killen, in his first match since being sent off against Colombia at the 2002 Confederations Cup in France, missed guilt-edged chances as the All Whites produced football that was later described as “very modern” by Bozsik.
“I think that was probably a game we lost ourselves with a couple of mistakes and three chances that we definitely should have scored from,” Herbert explained.
“But for me, hand on heart, that was our [NZ’s] best performance for a long, long time. To come here and create as many chances as we did is great because you could come here and defend for 80 minutes and get a half chance from a corner.
“I can’t actually remember them threatening us in the first half so now it’s all about piecing it together. The 45 minutes have got to become 90 minutes…it’s just those little mistakes.”
It could have been a different story for New Zealand with Leo Bertos brilliantly denied in the second minute when Hungary’s Crystal Palace custodian Gabor Kiraly reacted low and away to his right after the All Whites winger had been put clear by a Chris Killen flick-on.
The All Whites, ranked 42 places below 76th-rated Hungary, continued to play patient, mature football from the back with captain Danny Hay comfortable on the ball in central defence and Ivan Vicelich directing traffic in his defensive midfield role.
Jeremy Christie, Michael Wilson and Chris KillenMoss was untroubled in the first half but was helpless to prevent Huszti’s game-breaker three minutes after halftime when Szabics dispossessed Old just outside New Zealand’s penalty before delivering a killer ball into the box.
Killen should have equalised five minutes later when a well-timed slide tackle from midfielder Tim Brown saw the ball squirt into the striker’s path. But Kiraly swotted Killen’s shot to safety after the Hibernian marksman got the ball tucked up under his feet.
Hungary gained momentum from Kiraly’s heroics and began carving up New Zealand down the right flank with some cute inter-passing from West Bromwich Albion winger Zoltan Gera and Willem II right back Csaba Feher.
Moss, in just his fifth international, responded with three world class saves to keep New Zealand in their European tour opener, the first a brilliant reflex block with his left leg from Hungarian playmaker Balazs Toth’s first time-drive in the 65th minute.
The unemployed former New Zealand Knights stopper then denied Balazs Molnar from the penalty spot in the 76th minute after Slovak referee Vladimir Hrinak ruled All Whites winger Kris Bouckenooghe had chopped Huszti down in the box when the foul clearly looked to have come outside the area.
Moss rushed out to smoother a Huszti shot a minute later and watched with relief as Hungarian captain Pal Dardai spectacularly bicycled kicked the rebound just over the crossbar.
Hungary finally made the game safe with 10 minute remaining when Gera put Feher free in the box and the fullback crossed for Szabics to tap into an empty net.
Herbert admitted the loss was painful as New Zealand had played with “real belief and confidence” with Hay, Vicelich, Bertos, Jeremy Christie and substitute Jarrod Smith all featuring.
The trick now is to turn in a 90-minute effort against Georgia or Estonia before New Zealand face World Cup favourites Brazil in Geneva on June 5 (NZT).
“It is frustrasting but on the other hand it’s pleasing because we can really see progress,” Herbert said.
“I want a team that goes into a World Cup qualifying campaign [from September 2007] that actually plays football and one that people are proud of and want to watch. We can be one-dimensional but not while I’m coach.”
Hay later went into bat for his young central defensive partner Old.
“A young player made mistakes but you don’t become better if you don’t make mistakes,” he said.
“Lets not forget we’re from rugby-mad New Zealand that we’re playing in Hungary. Considering we’ve just got back together again and so many of us haven’t played for a while, we can only get better.”
New Zealand move to the German national team’s training base in Hennef, near Bonn, overnight ahead of their next match against 101-ranked Georgia on May 28 (NZT) in Altenkirchen.
Adrian Webster, David Mulligan and Noah Hickey, who was forced off after 32 minutes with a lower leg injury against Hungary, are all expected to fit for selection.
Webster was an 11th hour scratching from Thursday’s match after ripping off his big, left toe-nail in training while Mulligan (ankle) was rested as a precaution.
Szusza Ferenc Stadion, Budapest
May 24, 2006
Hungary 2 (Huszti Szabolcs 48, Szabics Imre 80) New Zealand 0. Halftime: 0-0.
New Zealand: 1-Glen Moss, 14-Noah Hickey (Jarrod Smith 34), 15-Steven Old, 5-Danny Hay (captain), 19-Michael Wilson (Chue Bunce 85), 7-Ivan Vicelich, 4-Tim Brown (Raf De Gregorio 60), 8-Jeremy Christie, 17-Kris Bouckenooghe, 11-Leo Bertos, 10-Chris Killen (Jeremy Brockie 68).
Hungary: 1-Kiraly Gabor, 2-Feher Csaba, 5-Sebok Vilmos, 3-Peto Zoltan (16-Vanczak Vilmos 79), 4-Low Zsolt, 9-Toth Balazs (17-Polonkai Attila 75), 8-Dardai Pal, 6-Molnar Balazs, 11-Huszti Szabolcs (14-Torghelle Sandor 86), 10-Gera Zoltan, 7-Szabics Imre (13-Rajczi Peter 83).
Hungary: Sebok Vilmos 23, Peto Zoltan 37.
NZ: Michael Wilson 25, Kris Bouckenooghe 70.
Referee: Vladimir Hrinak (Slovakia).