Boy, talk about excited. Last night we went to see the All Whites play Bahrain for a place in the next football world cup in South Africa. The stadium was completely packed out (35,000) people — the biggest crowd ever for a football game in New Zealand. There was so much resting on this game for both teams — New Zealand had to win to get through to the finals. A draw would have meant that Bahrain qualified.
The only other time NZ has made it to the world cup was in 1982. There was a huge media buildup to the game, and I was a bit nervous about it. The All Whites were lucky to have got a draw against Bahrain when they played them in October. Bahrain had missed a couple of easy goals and could so easily have won. But the All Whites had been working hard on their set pieces all last week, and had stuck with the 3-4-3 formation that allowed them to field a stronger attacking squad.
When we went into the stadium it was already buzzing. We could tell it was going to be a noisy night. Football crowds tend to be much noisier than rugby crowds, and they were already pretty rowdy. Most of the crowd were wearing white clothes in solidarity with the team. We bought our beer and warmed up our vocal cords for the match.
At the kick off, Bahrain went straight onto the attack. Their forwards were very fast taking the ball up the pitch and immediately put our defense under pressure. But Ryan Nelson and Ivan Vicelich held firm in the back line. New Zealand picked up the pace after a few minutes and started to dominate the game. There were some great shots, especially Chris Killen’s left-foot volley from the edge of the penalty box, which beat the keeper, but hit the cross bar. Rory Fallon finally got the ball in the net a minute before half time with a header from a good Leo Bertos corner.
Rory Fallon, instant hero!
The other hero of the night was the All White’s keeper, Mark Patson, when he saved a penalty early in the second half.
Boy, the relief!
Bertos and Shane Smeltz seemed to get their combinations working better in the second half and came close to scoring. When Bahrain scored our hearts sank. But when we realised the referee had awarded a penalty for a foul against Patson, everyone cheered. And the place erupted at the full time whistle. What a game. What a night. Fantastic!