It was a hell of a match in the Westpac Stadium(the cake tin) in windy Wellington, New Zealand as Asian challengers Bahrain were blown away by the Kiwis, nicknamed the All Whites, while their rugby union compatriots are named the All Blacks, the women the Silver Ferns.
I saw New Zealand in their only other World Cup appearance in Spain in 1982 where they gave Scotland a fright before losing to Brazil and the Soviet Union, and I was at that match in Malaga. Since then they have been dominated in the weak OCEANIA group by Australia, who recently moved to the Asian group and qualified for the 3rd time, second in a row.
New Zealand have been making small waves in recent years and their U17 team was the first team of any age group to qualify from the group stages of a FIFA World Cup finals, in Nigeria a week or so ago, but only because of FIFA Fair Play points. They have also played in three Confederation Cups and the Wellington Phoenix play in the Hyundai A League in Australia.
Thirty five thousand packed into Westpac Stadium,a New Zealand record crowd for a soccer match, beating the crowd that watch David Beckham and the LA Galaxy last year at the same location. Bahrain came third and last in their original group losing out to Australia and Japan, and battled through play-offs, until they tied 0-0 with Saudia Arabia in Manama and came through on away goals with an added time goal in the away leg in Riyadh to tie 2-2 and advance on the away goals rule.
Their coach, Czech,Milan Macala who has coached six national teams, chose to train the week before in sunny Australia, rather than windswept, cold and rainy New Zealand. I once flew from Rotorua to Wellington and it was a scary landing between nearby buildings in the New Zealand capital in windy conditions.
I got up early to watch the match televised live and in was a ding dong battle, with the skillful Gulf boys battling the elements and the powerful All White defence and a perfect, well groomed pitch. It was a matter of the All Whites having to score a goal on the away goals rule, and that they did, just on half time as Plymouth Argyle's Rory Fallon headed in Leo Beto's corner. However, more drama in the 51st minute when Tony Lockhead conceded a penalty, and Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. He had a superb match. Mark Paston saved the penalty from Suyed Adna. New Zealand stymied attack after attack and actually started to play some decent football.
New Zealand Football(they changed the name 2 years ago from Soccer), billed it as ONE SHOT FOR GLORY. and that it indeed was, with a passionate crowd rarely seen before as the team booked its place to South Africa. Ivan Vicelich who had had actually seen playing for RKC Waalwijk in the Dutch League a few months ago, was outstanding and coach Ricky Herbert who I had seen play in the World Cup in Spain will go to his second World Cup.
Well done the All Whites, and a special greeting to my old Kiwi soccer mates, Sandy Davie, Shay 'sunshine' Spitz, Bart Cleverley and Rodney 'chinky mama' Brown.