Kiwis score late to tie Slovakia
Winston Reid scored in second-half injury time Tuesday, lifting New Zealand to a 1-1 draw with Slovakia in Rustenburg, South Africa.
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 after Reid let him move free.
"Tonight's a special night for me, I couldn't be any prouder," said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, who turned to Kiwi fans in the bleachers and pumped his arms in celebration after the late equalizer.
"I thought the opening game was a good chance to get something and I would have been disappointed with a loss after conceding a goal like that," Herbert said. "But we kept coming, the boys kept coming."
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss, who is leading his country in its first international tournament since Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, said his players were deflated after surrendering their lead.
'Minor sporting tragedy'
"This is a minor sporting tragedy for us," Weiss said. "We were the better team over the game. It's a pity we didn't take our chances."
All four teams have one point in Group F. Italy and Paraguay drew 1-1 Monday.
Both New Zealand and Slovakia are regarded as outsiders in South Africa, and after Tuesday's ragged performance, they will both struggle against their group rivals.
"We still have two heavyweights to go and they will be tough," Herbert said. "It was a strong performance today. I think we showed the kind of football we play now is conducive to results."
Slovakia, which upset the Czech Republic and Poland in qualifying, was 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 defence 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 a constant threat
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 defence.
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.
"Some of the quality of the movement up front could be better and we'll work on that," said Herbert, whose team next meets Italy on Sunday.
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 68th-minute 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.