New Zealand claimed their place at next year's World Cup finals with a
pulsating win over Bahrain in the second leg of their play-off.
Striker Rory Fallon headed home the only goal of the game on the stroke of
half-time, while goalkeeper Mark Paston also saved a penalty to see the All
Whites through to South Africa.
In front of a capacity crowd at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Saturday night,
New Zealand repeated the efforts of the national team of 1982. The 35,194 boisterous fans, the largest crowd to watch a football match in New
Zealand, made their presence felt with a continuous cacophony that started well
before the opening whistle and continued long after referee Jorge Larrionda blew
The result gave the All Whites a 1-0 aggregate win following the goalless draw
in Manama on October 10.
The hosts were under early pressure conceding two corners and having defender
Ben Sigmund yellow-carded in just the third minute. They gave Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed Jaffar his first test in the eighth
minute when a Shane Smeltz header across the goalmouth from a Leo Bertos
free-kick found captain Ryan Nelsen, but his looping header found the top of the
Striker Chris Killen almost broke the deadlock in the 19th minute when he sent
a delightful left-foot volley from the edge of the penalty area beyond the
Bahrain goalkeeper but off the crossbar.
Soon after attacking midfielder Bertos, having made his presence felt with a
number of early runs at the defence, sent a right-footed free-kick just wide of
Jaffar's left-hand post.
All Whites goalkeeper Paston was on hand on the half-hour to dive low to his
left and deny a snap volley in front of goal by Bahrain front man Jaycee John.
Jaffar then produced a superb reflex save from a goalbound header by Fallon
with half-time closing in, with Bertos again involved in the play in providing
But that was all in vain in the 45th minute when, from a Bertos corner, Fallon
rose highest in the six-yard area to send a powerful header beyond Jaffar.
On the balance of play the All Whites half-time lead was deserved, with Bertos
and a Tony Lochhead providing most of the sting in the home side's attacking
The drama intensified in the 50th minute when referee Larrionda pointed to the
penalty spot after Lochhead fouled Abdulla Ismaeel Omar.
However, the combination of a poor strike from Sayed Mohamed Adnan and a
perfectly-timed dive by Paston to his right kept the All Whites in front.
New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen increasingly stamped his class on the match,
organising the defence as the visitors pushed forward in search of an
Smeltz came close to doubling the tally with 20 minutes to play but his
close-range strike flashed wide. Killen then sent an overhead kick on the six-yard box high over the cross bar
with nine minutes remaining.
Desperate defending from All Whites pair Ivan Vicelich and Nelsen spurred the
home side on in the closing minutes. In the end it was one shot for glory, and Fallon and New Zealand, took it.
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert admitted it was "incredible'' to see his class
of 2009 emulate the efforts of the 1982 national team he was a part of as a
player in reaching the World Cup finals.
"I said through the week that I think the special moment was going to be
winning this football match and seeing the emotion on the players because when
you play you don't see it all, you don't see that landscape, and wow it was
incredible,'' said Herbert. "We've all worked hard, we all backed the system that we truly believe was
good enough to win it and they've gone and done it.
"Tonight is about these boys, about a group who believed and have never
stopped believing, and their dream continues which is fantastic. We've waited 27 years to resurrect something very important to us. These boys are going to a World Cup.''
Herbert also gave the squad of 18 players a vote of confidence in their places
for next year's tournament. "I would be incredibly surprised if any of these players would be omitted from
South Africa,'' he said.
For Bahrain, the disappointment was reflected in a no-show from the team for
the official post-match press conference.