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New Zealand stun Slovakia with late equaliser

New Zealand 1 Slovakia 1

Winston Reid headed in an injury-time goal today to give New Zealand a 1-1 draw with Slovakia at the World Cup.

Shane Smeltz crossed the ball for Reid to head in at the near post, giving New Zealand its first point at a World Cup after going winless in its debut in 1982.

Robert Vittek had given Slovakia the lead in the 50th minute, heading in a cross from Stanislav Sestak.

Vittek nearly doubled the lead in the 69th on a counterattack, but goalkeeper Mark Paston was quick off his line and made the save.

All four teams have one point in Group F. Italy and Paraguay drew 1-1 yesterday.

Both New Zealand and Slovakia are regarded as outsiders in South Africa, and after today's ragged performance, they will both struggle against their group rivals.

Slovakia, who upset the Czech Republic and Poland in qualifying, were the more polished team and created most of the game's scoring chances.

New Zealand's tight man-to-man marking choked Slovakia's disjointed attempts to move forward in the early stages, while the tall Kiwi strikers menaced the Slovakian defense but struggled to create clear opportunities.

With neither team able to produce entertaining football, the crowd occasionally put down their vuvuzelas to do the wave.

Sestak cut into the area in the 27th to meet a pass from Vladimir Weiss but sent his shot just past Mark Paston's left post.

Paston miscued a clearance in the 33rd, allowing Vittek to pounce, but the Slovakia striker dawdled on the ball and was closed down by the Kiwi defense.

Rory Fallon put Smeltz into scoring position inside the Slovakian area in the 38th but he sent the ball into the side netting, then Paston tipped a curling shot from Marek Hamsik over the bar.

Vittek's goal spurred Slovakia while New Zealand still couldn't develop any forward momentum.

Sestak was a constant threat for the New Zealand's central defensive pair. He set up Hamsik for a clear shot in the 64th but the Slovakian captain scooped the ball high over the bar.

Slovakia looked poised to extend its lead when a counter-attack had the New Zealand backpedalling before Vittek squandered his chance in front of goal.

The Kiwis replaced Chris Killen with Chris Wood in the 71st, though it was Smeltz who in the final minutes missed the first clear chance to equalize when he headed wide from close range.

The 38,646-capacity Royal Bafokeng Stadium was only two-thirds full for the match.