New Zealand 1 Slovakia 1

From villain to hero, Winston Reid did for New Zealand what no one could do for Australia.

Even better, his last-gasp header gave the All Whites a point – their first at a World Cup. History was made as honours were even against Slovakia, who had assumed, with some justification, that they had done enough to win the game.

It was Reid who was culpable as the Slovaks took the lead, but how he redeemed himself. A player with a Maori background and Danish parentage has united a nation, not that New Zealand hasn’t been right behind the All Whites. After this famous, almost unbelievable, result, watch the euphoria build. Incredible.

A journey into the unknown looked like it would have a premature ending until the 93rd minute of an arm-wrestle of a match. But then Shane Smeltz, perhaps feeling guilty after squandering a gilt-edged opportunity, whipped in a peach of a cross, and there was Reid, muscling his way to get on the end of it.

The Socceroos rolled up their tent against the Germans, but the All Whites refused to lay down against the Slovaks. A huge gulf in quality in terms of the opposition, granted. But there is a moral to this story. Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Now New Zealand have given themselves a hope, however slim, of achieving the impossible dream. Getting past the group stage. Paraguay and Italy will offer much sterner tests than the modestly endowed Slovaks. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“This is the biggest stage in the world for football and that has to be the most important goal of my life,” Reid said.

“If you look at the smiles on the guys’ faces, that says it all.

“I thought their goal was offside but they made it tough for us in the second half. So to come back and get the equaliser is a fantastic feeling.”

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert hailed the point as the greatest result in the rugby-mad country’s football history.

“We came across with the intention to make a difference and we certainly did that against a highly rated team,” said Herbert.

“We are very, very proud. You would have to say this is our best ever result. We have never picked up a point in a World Cup before. We have come and thrown some extremely good punches and got what I thought was a fully deserved result.”

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss described the late equaliser as a “small sporting tragedy for us.”

“During the match we were the better team, it is just a pity we did not take the opportunities we had.

“The mood in the dressing room is very sad but that is football. We have to cope with the sadness and I hope we will perform well in the next match.”

Ultimately, route one offered the avenue to goal for both teams and that will especially frustrate Weiss, who had clearly done his homework. By pushing three up-front as much as possible, he made it man-for-man against the New Zealand defence, forcing either Tony Lochhead or Leo Bertos to tuck in. Bertos, a danger man, was double-teamed by Marek Cech and Erik Jendrisek whenever he got the ball. And as the All Whites, predictably, lumped long balls into Rory Fallon, it was Slovakia’s tallest defender, Jan Durica, who muscled up.

New Zealand didn’t have too many ideas, but they did have a solution, even if it arrived late. Slow starters, but strong finishers. That the first half had been one of the poorest of the tournament so far wouldn’t have worried the All Whites one bit.

True, there were a few anxious moments, some involving keeper Mark Paston misreading the flight of the ball or, in one case, making an awful mess of a clearance. But the key for Herbert was that after six months of hype, and no doubt serious pre-match nerves, his team had a platform. Some encouraging signs from set pieces and reason to believe.