JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – The All Whites’ historic first-ever FIFA Confederations Cup point from a goalless draw with Asian champions Iraq on Sunday morning (NZT) has given their World Cup playoff hopes a timely boost.
New Zealand, who face either Bahrain or Saudi Arabia over two legs in October and November for a place at the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010, proved they can compete with the best of Asia and have a genuine chance of returning to the Republic to make just their second World Cup.
“I think tonight was another milestone for the country,” said All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, “I think we proved a few doubters wrong.”
“The team were magnificent tonight. We’ve never come to a FIFA tournament and got a point, we’ve never come to a FIFA tournament and dictated a game and at halftime we were disappointed not to be two or three up given the chances that we had.
“It was a decent performance that will hopefully see the country get right in behind this side for the World Cup playoff. To come away with a nil-nil against a quality side is an important message to send back.”
The result was also a boon for New Zealand’s South African hosts as Iraq were chasing victory to pip Bafana Bafana to a place the semi finals.
The first piece of the semi final puzzle fell into place for Iraq with Spain beating South Africa 2-0 in Bloemfontein to equal Brazil’s record of 35 matches without defeat and set a new record of 15 consecutive wins.
But the All Whites barely let the Asian champions into the match, apart from a testing final ten minutes when New Zealand’s player of the tournament Glen Moss pulled off two crucial saves – one in full flight and the other with his head – to prevent what would have been an unjust defeat.
Aside from an early scare in which Moss denied Younis Mohammed one-on-one, New Zealand dominated the first half but lacked the finishing touches to convert numerous chances.
Glasgow Celtic striker Chris Killen put New Zealand’s first opportunity wide and then Ben Sigmund, Shane Smeltz and Killen all missed the target with headers while another Killen effort forced a sharp save from Mohammed Kassid.
New Zealand’s best chance to claim all three points fell to Smeltz with just minutes remaining, but the Gold Coast forward couldn’t quite control Killen’s delicate chip over the defence with just the keeper to beat.
New Zealand harried, pressed and at times bullied the Asian champions who retreated to their shells and allowed the All Whites to play.
Sigmund, in his first game since hip surgery, added some much needed aggression to the team and ran himself into the ground for 72 minutes until being substituted, while a confident and positive Leo Bertos posed a constant threat down the left flank.
A largely local Ellis Park crowd was always behind a New Zealand side that had South Africa’s hopes in its hands, and lifted in fervour and volume as the All Whites defended in numbers to keep out Iraq in a tense final few minutes.
Next up for the All Whites is securing Middle Eastern opposition to fill the September international window, the side’s last chance to prepare for a crucial away leg of the World Cup playoff in either Manama or Riyadh on October 10.
FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009
New Zealand 0 Iraq 0
Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Saturday 20 June
New Zealand: 12-Glen MOSS (GK), 2-Aaron SCOTT (17-David MULLIGAN 83), 3-Tony LOCHHEAD, 5-Ben SIGMUND (18-Andrew BOYENS 72), 6-Ivan VICELICH, 7-Simon ELLIOTT, 8-Tim BROWN (Captain), 9-Shane SMELTZ, 10-Chris KILLEN, 11-Leo BERTOS, 15-Jeremy BROCKIE (14-Jeremy CHRISTIE 68).
Substitutes not used: 1-Mark PASTON (RGK), 4-Duncan OUGHTON, 13-Andy BARRON, 16-Chris JAMES, 19-Steven OLD, 20-Chris WOOD, 21-Kris BRIGHT, 22-Jarrod SMITH, 23-James BANNATYNE (RGK).
Coach: Ricki HERBERT
Cautions Tim Brown 36, Jeremy BROCKIE 61
Iraq: 12-MOHAMMED KASSID (GK), 2-MOHAMMED ALI KAREEM, 3-BASEM ABBAS, 5-NASHAT AKRAM, 7-EMAD MOHAMMED (17-ALAA ABDUL ZAHRA 56), 10-YOUNIS MAHMOUD, 11-HAWAR MULLA MOHAMMED (4-FAREED MAJEED 46), 13-KARRAR JASIM, 14-SALAM SHAKER, 15-ALI HUSSEIN REHEMA, 18-MAHDI KAREEM (6-SALIH SADIR 67).
Substitutes not used; 1-NOOR SABRI (RGK), 8-LUAY SALAH, 9-ABDUL WAHHAB ABU AL HAIL, 16-DARA MOHAMMED, 19-ISAM YASEEN, 20-SAMER SAEED, 21-ODAY TALIB (RGK), 22 MUAYAD KHALID, 23 HALKARD MULLA MOHAMMED.
Coach: Bora MILUTINOVIC