New Zealand approach their winner takes all World Cup play-off with either Saudi Arabia or Bahrain with a spring in their step after eking out their first ever Confederations Cup point.
The All Whites celebrated Saturday’s goalless draw with Iraq as if they’d won the Cup itself but their joy was understandable given this was their first ever point after 810 minutes of trying in the competition.
Coach Ricki Herbert could not hide his satisfaction with the result which came after tame capitulations to Spain and hosts South Africa.
“I think tonight another milestone was reached,” he said.
The point gained has put his men in the right frame of mind for the play-off with the fifth-placed Asian side for a shot at returning to South Africa next year.
“Saudi or Bahrain will be a massive challenge, right across the board the Asian teams are very close, and this decent performance will hopefully see our nation get right behind the team.”
If Celtic striker Chris Killen and Shane Smeltz had succeeded in converting a multitude of chances New Zealand could very well have sneaked away with all three points.
“I would have bet my mortgage on us scoring from a one-on-one situation we had. Chris and Shane are good assets. Chris would have normally walked away with two or three goals.”
He predicted that with time Killen and strike partner and man of the match Shane Smetz would combine to form a potent double act.
Herbert, who played for New Zealand in the 1982 World Cup finals, said his team had played with strength and credibility.
He added: “I’m delighted, we’ll enjoy celebrating this as a group and then move forward with respect and cautiousness to another huge challenge for the World Cup.”
New Zealand must have felt like they were playing in front of their home fans such was the support for them from the local supporters at Ellis Park desperate not to see an Iraq victory which could prevent South Africa qualifying for the semi-finals.
“There was fantastic support from the fans. We played our part in securing South Africa’s path into the semi-finals and we wish them well.”
One member of Herbert’s side who rose to the occasion was keeper Glen Moss who pulled off a series of match-saving saves, including when a close range shot bounced off his forehead in injury time.
“Glen’s a quality keeper, he was there when we needed him.
“He’s not going to be part of the World Cup play-offs (in October/November) due to suspension unfortunately.
“I think he’s got the potential to go further. He’s just signed a new contract with his club (Melbourne Victory) but I wouldn’t be surprised if people come knocking.”
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