Harry Ngata on the World Cup
Former All White Harry Ngata blogs about the Fifa World Cup

Harry Ngata: Persistence pays off for Herbert

The All Whites have continued their sensational start to their World Cup campaign with a stunning 1-0 win against highly fancied Serbia this morning.

A classic Shane Smeltz finish was the difference in an open game in which both sides created a number of scoring opportunities.

I am absolutely delighted not only with the result but also the way the All Whites approached the game. Ricki Herbert has persisted with his attacking game plan for a while now, and going on the last couple of games things look like they are coming together at the right time.

There is no doubt in my mind that he will go into the World Cup playing with three strikers. Some sceptics quizzed this tactic before the Bahrain playoff and there has been plenty of debate on whether this is the right option. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I know for a fact that Herbert welcomes this kind of feedback. He has faith and belief in that what he is doing is right for the team and I think the footballing community has slowly come around and embraced it.

Rory Fallon again played a significant role this morning, confirming to me that he is the man to lead the line with supporting roles from Chris Wood and Shane Smeltz. This was evident when his flick-on found its way to Smeltz, who's finish was all class.

As we have seen many times before in the A-League, Smeltz committed his defender one way before chopping the ball back onto his favoured right foot to finish coolly.

Fallon was involved seconds later when a fantastic build up down the left gave him a scoring chance just inside the box, only to be parried by Vladimir Stojkovic. The tall striker followed that up with a headed chance from a Leo Bertos corner and provided another flick-on which gave substitute Jeremy Brockie a shot on goal.

Fallon's performance, on the back of a standout game against Australia, illustrates to me that this guy can be a real handful for defenders. More importantly, it gives his teammates the confidence to play a certain way knowing that when they do play the ball forward, be it in the air or on the ground, there is the chance he will make something happen.

What was also pleasing about today was our ability to hold our shape. Historically, when fatigue sets in the flood gates tend to open and we really get stretched. But this team has the focus and determination to hold strong with an almost never say die, Rocky Balboa attitude. This is installed from a good work ethic, particularly with Ryan Nelsen at the helm. There were times when we dropped a little too deep, but overall, Serbia was unable to penetrate our lines consistently and cause a threat.

Unfortunately playing and winning games at this level comes with some consequences - people will be watching and taking notice.

Slovakia played out a 1-1 draw with Cameroon earlier that day which I can put my house on that members of our All Whites camp would have been in the stands taking notes.

Likewise for New Zealand. Slovakia will be watching very closely how the All Whites go about their business, plotting tactics to overcome our national team. This is where the All Whites have to be smart and dynamic and it is in this area where Herbert has turned to assistant Raul Blanco for ideas.

My greatest concern is that the All Whites can become one dimensional. International football is as much about consistency as it is about change. Herbert will have to devise a plan B to adapt to counter tactics. The good teams will work you out very quickly and the All Whites have to be able to employ change quickly and decisively with very little disruption.

However, we have to be delighted with what we saw this morning. It is an historic win for New Zealand. Some will say that it's only a practice match and they had a number of star players absent but momentum is a powerful tool in sport and if the squad keeps building as they are we may be able to surprise a few more people.

With every creditable performance the expectation rises but no matter what happens we should all be proud of this magnificent result.

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