New Zealand v Slovakia
Vuvuzela Rating: 2.4 – Distant Roadworks
The “All Whites” are well known for donning jackets made entirely from Sheepskin when warming up. New Zealand’s qualifying campaign was fairly leisurely and saw them play 8 of the worlds 10 smallest countries, several of which sent a 5 a side team as they were unable to supply the full complement of 11 players. 18 year old striker Chris Wood is desperate to impress Roberto Di Matteo as his current deal with the Baggies expires after the tournament in South Africa. If he fails to secure a new deal he worries that he will either have to return to his native New Zealand and finish his apprenticeship in carpentry or settle for lower league football.
Slovakia, on the other hand, are often mixed up with world cup rivals Slovenia, to the point where many players have represented both countries and there is a national lottery in which players are allocated on a yearly basis. This year’s draw saw Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel rated MVP with Slovenia’s Roben Koren being mysteriously left out of the draw after it emerged he was locked in a local public convenience and missed the deadline for registration.
The stadium in Rustenberg had plenty of empty seats when kick off arrived, but this could of been a blessing as the vuvuzela soundtrack was somewhat muted. The game began with New Zealand looking the stronger side, clearly not phased by the fact they were up against a team with more than 7 players in it. Two good chances fell to Chris Killen in the first 10 minutes, but he couldn’t convert either. The game settled into a slow tempo with both sides attempting to string passes together but falling down when it came to the final ball. After half an hour Slovakia created a good chance but Vladimir Weiss fired narrowly wide after some good build up play.
The first half ended with a whimper but it was New Zealand who impressed more during the first 45 minutes. Reports emerged at half time that Slovakian government officials had been placing large bets on their side to win, in an attempt to boost the financial situation of the struggling nation. It seemed that the Slovaks team talk had done the trick when they broke the deadlock after 5 minutes, Stanislav Sestak fired in a cross from the right and Robert Vittek expertly dispatched the ball past the ‘keeper, aided by the hesitant Winston Reid failing to clear the ball. The central defender is far from accustomed to the world stage, he has to leave his sheep farm in Auckland to represent his country in South Africa.
The Slovakian side attempted to extend their lead but Marek Hamsik and Vladimir Weiss couldn’t capitalise on the chances that came their way. Although New Zealand were dominant in terms of possession, they failed to do anything with it. 20 minutes from time Chris Killen was hauled off for 18 year old Chris Wood, the West Brom striker struggling to remove his sheepskin jacket which appeared to have all but fused itself into his shirt, much to the amusement in the crowd as he struggled on the ground.
A good chance fell to Rory Fallon 10 minutes from time but he ballooned his strike well over the target, he wheeled away in celebration, appearing to have forgotten he was playing football not rugby, and looked decidedly confused when 3 points were not added to the All Whites total. It looked for all the world as if Slovakia were going to pick up their first win of this year’s tournament but deep into injury time, Winston Reid dispatched a swirling cross from eight yards into the Slovakian net. Wild celebrations ensued from all 500 New Zealand fans and silenced some now very nervous looking Slovakian dignitaries, who had already popped the corks of several bottles of champagne.
The game was far from the worst so far, New Zealand will be pleased with their first world cup point, where as Slovakia will see it as two points lost. The group is now wide open after two 1-1 draws in the first round of games.
Match statistics (Powered by Optajoke)
12 – Rory Fallon had to have the offside rule explained to him a dozen times during training this week. Informed.
5 – The number of suspicious looking “bookmakers” looking to find out which hotel the Slovakian team are staying in. Worried.
2000 – The total number of people watching the game in New Zealand was approximately 2000. Apathy.