WELLINGTON – The All Whites carved out a new slice of history by qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa with a dramatic and emotional 1-0 victory over Bahrain in front of 35,194 fans at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
Rory Fallon added another twist in a remarkable comeback from the international wilderness meeting a Leo Bertos corner with a well taken 45th minute header that ultimately proved the winner.
From the moment a stadium – sold out weeks ago – belted out God Defend New Zealand with a rare and impassioned gusto, it was quite clear that tonight was going to be a night to remember.It came down to a penalty in the end but not in the way that many had expected. There was to be no shootout – Fallon’s goal had already ruled out any chance of extra time – but five minutes into the second half, referee Jorge Larrionda ruled Tony Lochhead had fouled Abdulla Ismaeel Omar and pointed to the penalty spot.
But Paston was more than equal to the Sayed Mohamed Adnan’s spot kick, diving low to his right to come up with the most important save of his career.
The crowd lifted and with every second that ticked by the All Whites looked more assured despite Bahrain needing just one crucial goal to take the tie on away goals.
But New Zealand, like they had done last month in Manama, stood firm and could have added a second in the last 15 minutes as Bahrain’s energy and confidence wilted.
After the match, Ricki Herbert was keen to let the players enjoy the limelight.
"This group of players has given everything to achieve this dream, everything over the last four years," Herbert said. "It's incredible. We're back. We're there."
The record crowd, awash in white and deafening throughout, did not go unnoticed by captain Ryan Nelsen who described it as the All Whites “12th man”.
"The crowd was incredible and I don't know if we could have won it without them," Nelsen said. “I've played in some incredible atmospheres but this is right up there."
New Zealand will find out who they face at the FIFA World Cup when the draw is made in December.
2010 FIFA World Cup
New Zealand 1 (Rory Fallon 45) Bahrain 0
First leg 0-0 (New Zealand win 1-0 on aggregate).
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
New Zealand: 1-Mark PASTON (GK), 4-Ben SIGMUND, 6-Ryan NELSEN (Captain),
5-Ivan VICELICH, 11-Leo BERTOS, 3-Tony LOCHHEAD, 8-Tim BROWN (16-Andrew BOYENS 90), 12-Michael MCGLINCHEY (17-Andy BARRON 54), 9-Shane SMELTZ, 10- Chris KILLEN (13-Chris WOOD 83), 14-Rory FALLON
Substitutes not used: 2-Aaron SCOTT, 7-Simon ELLIOTT, 15-David MULLIGAN, , 18-James BANNATYNE (RGK).
Coach: Ricki Herbert
Cautions: Ben SIGMUND
Bahrain: 1-Sayed Mohamed Jaffar (GK), 4-Abdulla Baba Fatadi, 5-Mohamed Ahmed Hubail (3-Ahmed Hassan Rashed 85), 6-Jaycee John, 7-Sayed Mahmood Jalal (13-Mahmood Abdulrahman Mohamed 79), 10-Mohamed Ahmed Salmeen (captain), 12-Faouzi Mubarak Aaish (11-Ismaeel Abdullatif Ismaeel 71), 14-Salman Isa Ali, 15-Abdulla Ismaeel Omar, 16-Sayed Mohamed Adnan, 17-Husain Ali Hassan,
Substitutes not used: 2-Mohamed Husain Mohamed, 8-Ebrahim Ali Meshkhas, 9-Hussain Salman Maki, 18-Abbas Ahmed Ali (GK),
Coach: Milan Máčala
Cautions: Faouzi Mubarak Aaish, Jaycee John