28 Years in the Making and Wasn’t it Worth It!!!   16 Jun 2010

Armchair View – Kiwi In London

Adrian Dawson

VIEWPOINT: From the moment we drew Slovakia in our first game of the FIFA World Cup 2010 the banter in my flat has not relented.

My partner is Slovakian you see and our flatmate from the Czech Republic (a rather good team one of those the Slovaks qualified ahead of to reach their first world cup finals).

So to match day and bets were wagered on who would be cooking dinner for the next few months along with text messages from well-wishers and not so well-wishers (one of whom of Sri Lankan origin suggested the Kiwis were in for a good old fashioned thumping. Do Sri Lanka even play soccer?)

In their wisdom the organisers had scheduled quite possible the most important game in the history of New Zealand soccer at quite possibly the worst time ever for a Kiwi in London, Tuesday 12.30pm. However, with some clever negotiation/manipulation of work colleagues and promises of coffee for the next week I was able to wrangle an extra long lunch break to watch the match!

To the Kings Arms in Putney I headed where I would be watching the game on the big screen. Excited by the fact that a billion Kiwis live in Putney I thought I would be met by a sea of black and white; what I got was an Englishman enjoying his lunch whilst reading The Sun newspaper.

“Never mind” I thought to myself, I was there and showing true support.

We got off to a rather good start and Killen (my Middlesborough FC supporting friend reckons he is the bees knees!) had a couple of excellent chances which unfortunately were not put away. Never mind, we looked the much busier side and I thought perhaps we might be in for something a bit magic.

The Slovaks (coming off wins in 2009 over teams like Czech Republic, Poland and The USA – who “won” their match 1-1 vs Old Blighty the other night) did begin to show their class and dominated the mid-field as we reached the middle to late first half and were probably unlucky to not be ahead by 1 or 2. Kiwi grit was keeping us in the game. Our keeper Paston was attempting his best impression of Rob Green, but thankfully Nelsen was there to help bail him out a couple of times.

The second half commenced and within a blink of an eye Vittek scored a smashing header after a good move down the right flank by our Slovak friends. With Hamsik and Weiss controlling the game for Slovakia I did begin to have visions of us shipping 3 or 4. Once again our grit shone through and as we went into the last 10 minutes you could sense the Slovaks were getting rather nervous about not having put us out of reach with a second.

Wood came on and added a bit of additional spark and direction that appeared to be lacking. Lochead created a wonderful chance with a few minutes remaining that Smeltz (on any other day he would have buried it) headed wide.

And then it happened!

Forget David Kirk and the William Webb Ellis at Eden Park, forget Peter Blake and Team New Zealand in San Diego, forget Martin Crowe and his Young Guns in 1992. Without a doubt one of the greatest moments in New Zealand sporting history occurred when little known Winston Reid (a young Maori lad who has played underage soccer for Denmark) latched onto a magnificent ball to bulge the onion bag with a few seconds remaining. Young Winston (yellow carded for the extraordinary celebrations including his shirt being flung far and high) had etched his names amongst the Kiwi greats on the World’s biggest stage.

Players of the caliber of Rufer, Sumner and Woodin were unable to achieve what our boys have today and who knows with the same fighting spirit could we possibly get a result against the might of Paraguay and World Champions Italy? If they can show the same fight determination and willingness to last the distance shown today I might just have to head across the road from the Kings Arms and lay a tenner on a second round appearance!!!

Almost 30 years ago the 82 side achieved something no other NZ side had ever achieved. This team has now bettered them. There is a certain other team we rather like for whom it is not far off 30 years since their greatest achievement. Perhaps Ryan Nelsen should be asked whether he would fancy a stint at Number 6 to partner Ritchie in 2011!

Adrian Dawson

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