New Zealand conceded two late goals but not their restored international football reputation as Ricki Herbert’s All Whites handed Brazil the tough World Cup dress-rehearsal they were after in Geneva on Monday (NZT).
The world’s greatest team were good value for their 4-0 win after Kaka and Juninho put a late exclamation mark on Brazil’s Stade de Geneve dominance with 86th and 93rd minute strikes.
It was a deflating end to an otherwise honourable fight from Herbert’s energy-sapped side who suffered a massive blow when inspirational captain Danny Hay was forced off after 25 minutes with a torn stomach muscle.
The World Cup favourites were made to wait till the 43rd minute before unlocking New Zealand’s defence when Ronaldo rifled the ball under All Whites goalkeeper Glen Moss after the outstanding Kaka cut a ball back from the byline.
New Zealand went to halftime with hope after Ronaldo was denied a second goal in stoppage time when his audacious chip over Moss rebounded to safety off the right hand post.
Adriano doubled Brazil’s advantage six minutes after the break when Cafu dispossessed All Whites right back Chris Bouckenooghe on the touchline near halfway. The ball found Adriano at the top of the box in a blink before the Inter Milan star gave a useful rendition of the quick step to fox his marker and give himself the space to fire past Moss.
Brazil predictably continued to rack up the chances but Moss, New Zealand’s outstanding man-of-the-match, kept respectability on the scoreboard with a series of world-class saves.
It was only when New Zealand’s gruelling schedule of four matches in 12 days finally started to take its toll physically that Brazil were able to race away.
Kaka, AC Milan’s brilliant 30 million euro winger, made it 3-0 in the 86th minute when he ghosted past the exhausted Noah Hickey and Bouckenooghe before calmly slotting under the advancing but helpless Moss.
Juninho, on for Ze Roberto in the 64th minute, completed Brazil’s World Cup warmup three minutes into stoppage time when All Whites substitutes Raf De Gregorio and Jeremy Brockie were punished for losing possession on halfway.
New Zealand took the loss on the chin as their contemporises (including a then 21-year-old Herbert) did when they were defeated by the same score at the World Cup in Spain in 1982.
The 2006 scoreline would have been easier to stomach had Herbert’s side been able to nick a goal. Unfortunately Vaughan Coveny had a volleyed thunder-bolt blocked three minutes after halftime while Tim Brown whistled a header over the bar after Fulham debutant Chris James set up New Zealand’s best chance with a superb left-sided cross in the final minute.
At least New Zealand had their historic 3-1 win over Georgia and 1-1 draw in Estonia earlier in their European tour to draw on as a pain-killer as the enormity of the occasion sunk in afterwards.
“They’re always a team that are going to totally dominate you but I think with a little more patience and a little more care with the ball, it could have been 2-0,” said Herbert who acknowledged Hay’s departure as a “massive blow”.
“But 2-0 or 4-0, that’s not important to me. We’ve got what we wanted out of this tour and that was to find players for the  World Cup, achieve results and hopefully get players into higher club environments.”
Herbert hoped New Zealand’s performance would be put into perspective back home.
“When you look at them, wow, what a side,” Herbert explained.
“I can’t find words to describe it. They’re absolute icons of world football and if you give them even the faintest opportunity they’re going to punish you and they did.”
“You watch, World Cup teams [in Germany] won’t control them. You’ve got Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Kaka up front, four of the best players in the world, so it’s been a hell of a learning curve.
“But I think a number of our players can walk tall tonight in a bloody tough environment. I mean there’s been some pretty big scores in World Cup buildup matches and it’s nice that we’re not in that category.”
If Moss was New Zealand’s standout player, then Steven Old was not far behind in Herbert’s eyes.
The 20-year-old central defender fluffed a couple of clearance kicks but was otherwise outstanding with several timely interceptions as Brazil made the All Whites work overtime on defence.
Winger Leo Bertos was another who did his growing reputation no harm when he twice fooled class Brazilian captain Cafu in a run down the left in the 74th minute.
“Some players have taken their opportunity tonight…it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of days because I’d be disappointed if we don’t get a few players in a higher [club] environment,” Herbert said.
The coach was also pleased to give Sydney FC-bound Jeremy Brockie and James a taste of the action in the heaving, sold-out stadium.
“It was always going to be tough tonight but there were some great outcomes with Jeremy Brockie getting a chance and Chris James. He’s only been with us for two days but he looks more than capable.”
“Of the 21 players in the squad I think we can put a tick alongside a good 14 or 15 of them which is important for me when you look at the future of the team.”
Herbert left the final words to Steve Sumner, New Zealand’s World Cup captain in 1982, who sent a text message not long after the final whistle.
“Learnt lots. [The Brazil loss will] Stand you in good stead. Proud of you all. Great tour. Well done.”
Stade de Geneve
June 4, 2006
Brazil 4 (Ronaldo 43, Adriano 51, Kaka 86, Juninho 93) New Zealand 0. Halftime: 1-0.
New Zealand (4-4-2): Glen Moss, Noah Hickey, Danny Hay (captain/Bunce 25/Raf de Gregorio 82), Steven Old, Kris Bouckenooghe, David Mulligan (Jarrod Smith 60), Ivan Vicelich, Jeremy Christie (Tim Brown 66), Leo Bertos (Chris James 86), Vaughan Coveny (Jeremy Brockie 76), Chris Killen.
Brazil (4-2-2-2): Dida, Cafu (Cicinho 75), Lucio, Juan, Roberto Carlos (Gilberto 64), Ze Roberto (Juninho 64), Emerson (Gilberto Silva 64), Ronaldinho (Ricardinho 75), Kaka, Ronaldo (Robinho 46), Adriano.
Referee: Jerome Laperriere (Switzerland).