Football: NZ fans hail team's first ever World Cup point

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Indy Lifestyle Online

New Zealand fans celebrated their team's first ever World Cup point Wednesday as one of the country's greatest ever sporting achievements after the All Whites drew 1-1 against Slovakia.

New Zealand were making their first appearance in the World Cup finals since 1982, when they suffered three heavy defeats, and fans reacted to the injury time equaliser in South Africa as if their team had won.

Most people watching the game - which started at 11.30 pm local time - did so at home, although some diehards gathered in bars as football fever for once eclipsed the passion associated with the All Blacks rugby team.

Despite the late hour, nearly 750,000 people tuned in live, Fairfax Media reported. That amounts to more than one in six people in the rugby-mad nation.

Among those glued to their televisions were the All Blacks, who interrupted their preparation for Saturday's first Test against Wales to cheer on their countrymen.

"I think probably the whole team watched it," assistant coach Wayne Smith told Fairfax, adding the team trained in white Tuesday as a gesture of solidarity.

"It was a great result, a good effort by a New Zealand team on a world stage. It will be a pretty buoyant thing for us (ahead of Saturday's Test)," he said.

New Zealand Herald sports columnist Chris Rattue summed up fans' feelings when he described the result as a great day for New Zealand sport.

"I have seen many great New Zealand sporting moments over the years but nothing to match this," he said.

The Herald also said the result had given the sport credibility in New Zealand, where it has always struggled against rugby.

"Make no mistake; this is a remarkable achievement. It's not something many would have expected when they slumped to an embarrassing 4-2 defeat to (Pacific island team) Vanuatu in 2004," the newspaper said on its website.

Sam Malcolmson, who played in the 1982 All Whites - the only other New Zealand team to make the World Cup finals - said coach Ricki Herbert's side had proved they had earned their place in South Africa.

"A lot of people have said worldwide we don't deserve to be there and their passage was made easy (through the weak Oceania confederation)," Malcolmson told Radio New Zealand.

"Well, we do deserve to be there and we had an excellent result and the other two teams will not be relishing playing New Zealand."

New Zealand next play reigning world champions Italy before taking on Paraguay in the final Group F match.

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