The coin toss featured on the half-time highlights film, which said everything about the way this game was heading until Ricki Herbert's side somehow conjured the first last-ditch drama of the tournament, to go with their first point in a World Cup finals.
Herbert later concealed a laugh when someone asked him about progress to the second round. "Who knows what the Italians might do to us – or not," he said but this draw makes the tournament a triumph whatever Marcello Lippi and the Paraguay manager Gerardo Martino inflict upon him in days to come. "We came here for a point. Anything else is a bonus," added Herbert, whose joie de vivre has already made his side so popular in South Africa.
Herbert, who played with a perm in the 1982 finals, the Kiwis' only other outing at this event, had another reason to be grinning. His matchwinner, Winston Reid, secured Danish citizenship in 2006, playing for their Under-21s. He only shifted back to the New Zealand camp after they had beaten Bahrain to qualify from the Oceania group and it became clear that Morten Olsen considered him too young for a call-up. The 21-year-old's change of heart did not exactly pay immediate dividends for his native country, as Reid lost the flight of Stanislav Sestak's excellent cross – he was actually looking away from the ball as it sailed across from the Slovak right – and allowed Robert Vittek in for Slovakia's 50th-minute opener. But when the Slovaks, a comfortably better footballing side, seemed to be home and dry, Reid got on the end of Shane Smeltz's cross in the third minute of second-half injury time, and whipped off his shirt to mark a new piece of Kiwi sporting history. Rarely has a press box been the source of such unfettered joy than the New Zealand end of this one.
The Kiwis' self-effacing manner has been a delight in recent days. Asked whether they might imitate the All Blacks, captain Ryan Nelsen exclaimed on Monday: "Skinny white guys doing the haka? Very initimidating," which is why their promising start to the game was so gratifying to see. You don't expect to find a side 78th in the world – just below Wales – employing an ambitious 3-4-3 system but they were ambitious for a while, pressed effectively and might have gone ahead had Middlesbrough's Chris Killen converted one of two half-chances.
Then Slovakia's superiority told and the game's stand-out talent, the German-based forward Sestak, did his stuff, ably assisted by the right-wing trickery of Manchester City's prodigiously talented Vladimir Weiss, son of the coach. Weiss Snr, at 45 the youngest manager in the World Cup, described the result as "a minor sporting tragedy" though a win against Paraguay would ease the pain on Sunday. That's also when the New Zealanders face Italy. "We have a chance like everybody else," Herbert said. "The opening game was the best chance of getting a result and hopefully the kind of football we play will be conducive to another one."
New Zealand (3-4-3): Paston; Reid, Nelsen, Smith; Bertos, Videlich (Christie, 78) Elliott, Lochead; Fallon, Smeltz, Killen (Wood, 73).
Slovakia (4-3-1-2): Mucha; Zabavnik, Durica, Skrtel, Cech; Weiss (Kucka, 90) Strba, Hamsik; Vittek (Stoch, 84); Sestak, Jendrisek.
Referee J Damon (South Africa).Reuse content