BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

Of all the players who are taking the field in this World Cup I’m most pleased to see the Kiwi goalkeeper Mark Paston.

Paston – who saved the penalty that sent New Zealand to the World Cup – used to keep goal for Bradford City and I saw most of the thirteen games he played before injury saw him released by the club. I thought he looked like a good goalkeeper but at the time City had a tendency to dump any custodian who made an error, conceded more than two or frankly who was no longer flavour of the month.

Watching Paston along with a number of other good keepers come in and then go out again quickly never getting a chance to settle or build up a relationship with defenders formed my opinion on how a manager should treat keepers which is to say the opposite of how Paston was treated at Valley Parade.

Pick a keeper, give him games, back him through mistakes and yes this means Robert Green too.

So as Paston dips low to make a confident save from Vladimír Weiss as New Zealand start their first World Cup since 1982 I’m happy to catch up with a player I wish I’d seen more of and who obviously found someone who would put the confidence into him.

Confidence does not seem to be in short supply for the Kiwis who have organised well and attacked with two wing backs coming forward and good movement from Rory Fallon and Chris Killen. Slovakia are oddly static allowing the New Zealanders to pass the ball around them with little pressure or protest. The two chances they have had come from a pair of mistakes by the talked about Paston who keeps goal in the same net as Rob Green’s error for England on Saturday.

I’ve realised that I no longer hear the vuvuzelas. I am vuvuzela immune.

Approaching half time and New Zealand have made the better play with Shane Smeltz forcing a good save out of Ján Mucha after Fallon had flicked on well while Paston continues to struggle allowing a corner to bounce in his box but makes amends saving from a long range dipping attempt from Marek Hamšík.

New Zealand have never gone in level at half time in a World Cup game and in this – their fourth attempt – they do just that. Slovakia – who are credited with the rich football history of Czechoslovakia – need to improve and do with Weiss crossing from wide right and Róbert Vittek slipping Winston Reid in the box to head in. It is harsh on the All Whites but better teams in this competition have been punished for not taking their chances when they are in the ascendancy.

The Europeans have taken that ascendancy now with Stanislav Šesták driving hard through the middle of the field before Ryan Nelson just manages to nick the ball away. Weiss comes through on the right hand side only to have Paston sweep out of the box and scoop the ball from his feet. The Kiwis are rattled and passes go astray.

Reid steals in as Vittek stands at the end of a fine flowing move that – were it not for the Kiwi’s intervention – would have been the goal of the tournament so far with the young Weiss becoming increasingly influential drifting from midfield to the forward line. It seems only a matter of time before Slovakia get a second but credit to New Zealand and the organisation they show that they do not.

Like many of the sides so far New Zealand have kept down the score and kept in with a chance. Smeltz heads a great cross by the tidy Tony Lochhead wide when in dead centre of the box. They seem to have huffed and puffed all they can before a cut back on the flank by Smeltz sees the profligate striker turn in a right footed cross from the left that is met by Reid who firmly heads into the back of Mucha’s goal.

Reid is booked in the celebrations but it will was no doubt considered worth it. He has earned a moment of history not only with his headed finish but with the tackle twenty minutes before which kept his side in contention.

New Zealand strike a blow for all teams who have raised their game and kept in with a shout until the last minute.

Slovakia go on to play Paraguay and Italy and qualification already looks a tough proposition. The 2010 New Zealand side have claimed a nations first point at a World Cup and while only the wildest optimist would dream they could do similar against Italy and perhaps Paraguay would be a bridge too far the have made the second did-you-see moment of the World Cup so far.

The first one was “Did you see the Germany batter Australia?” Something not lost on their nearest neighbours.

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