March 3, 2010
PASADENA, USA – The All Whites have started their World Cup year with a 0-2 defeat to Mexico but the resilient showing has Ricki Herbert finding plenty of positives.
A week after a locally-sourced Mexico team dismantled Bolivia 5-0 in San Francisco, a full strength side welcoming its stars back from top European leagues was expected to overrun an under-strength All Whites eleven.
But the sold out Rose Bowl crowd of 90,526 were forced to wait for 54 minutes for the opening goal – a clinical header from substitute Javier Hernandez – as New Zealand matched Mexico for passion and aggression in a often-heated encounter.
At times the All Whites took exception to their rough treatment, none more so than uncompromising defender Ben Sigmund four minutes later when he was bailed over by Carlos Vela just prior to the Arsenal striker putting Mexico 2-0 ahead.
Rory Fallon had the ball in the net with 15 minutes left on the clock, but the All Whites striker was ruled to have drifted offside during neat interplay with Shane Smeltz.
A Jonathan Dos Santos tracer bullet rattled the woodwork midway through the first half in a tangible sign of the danger the star studded Mexican line-up posed but New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert was more than happy with the way his defence, including debutants Tommy Smith in central defence and Chad Coombes in the unaccustomed role of wingback, equipped themselves.
“It was always going to be a very big challenge coming here tonight,” Herbert said.
“We’re missing a few players who are essential to us and we haven’t played together for five months. We came here with a lot of respect for Mexico but I think they showed us a lot of respect too.”
“For us it was about trialling players and we had practically a new back five out there, but the match has given us what we needed and given us plenty of ideas moving forward.”
One of those ideas may be the confirmation that Tommy Smith is worthy of a place in New Zealand’s final 23-man squad.
While Sigmund will rightly earn most of the plaudits for his relentless tackling, Smith quietly shone on debut with his calmness and confidence.
“The back was always going an area under a lot of pressure, and we brought a Tommy Smith who’s only 20 and I think he had a very good debut for us tonight.
“Coming here in front of 90,000 against a team that’s top 15 in the world, it was going to be a real acid test for Tommy, and I think he passed with flying colours.”
Next up for New Zealand in their confirmed World Cup build up is a trans-Tasman blockbuster against Australia on May 24 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where another huge crowd is expected.
New Zealand 0 Mexico 2 (Javier Hernandez 54, Carlos Vela 58)
New Zealand: 1- Glen MOSS (GK), 2-Ben SIGMUND, 4-Tommy SMITH, 16- Andrew BOYENS, Chad COOMBES (12-Michael McGLINCHEY 55), 8-Tim BROWN (captain / 15-Andy BARRON 79), 7-Simon ELLIOTT, 11-Leo BERTOS, 3-Tony LOCHHEAD, 9-Shane SMELTZ (13-Chris WOOD 79), 10-Chris KILLEN (14-Rory FALLON 55).
Substitutes not used: 18-James BANNATYNE (RGK), 19-Steven OLD, 20-Jason HAYNE
Coach: Ricki HERBERT
Cautions: Shane SMELTZ