Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Kiwis' post-match no-show mirrors performance

"Mister, Mister, where is your team?," asked a Mexican reporter. "Where have they gone?"

We were standing in the cavernous bowels of the Azteca Stadium. The Mexican team was filing past the hundreds of assembled journalists, conducting interview after interview, but the All Whites didn't turn up.

Some might say it had been the same story on the field - but that would be uncharitable.

This was a thumping defeat and elements of the New Zealand display were extremely disappointing, but they tried.

"We picked a bad time to not play to our best of our ability," said striker Rory Fallon. "We just couldn't get into the game and that is suicidal against a team like Mexico.

As the match kicked off the capacity crowd was already chanting "Esta Tarde, tenemos que ganar" ("This afternoon, we have to win") and the expectation was huge. But there was a palpable edginess as the minutes ticked by and the near misses mounted. That was released after the first goal and when Mexico went 2-0 ahead just before half-time it become a carnival.

One of the few bright spots was the performance of goalkeeper Glen Moss, who made a handful of outstanding saves. He may have been at fault with the first goal after a weak punch but quickly redeemed himself.

"It doesn't mean much at the moment," said Moss of his stellar performance.

"When five goals go past you it is hard to think you had a good game. It is all about the team result and this is pretty hard to take."

One double save in the first half - when he saved at point-blank range then dived across his goal to swipe away a goalbound attempt from the rebound - was particularly outstanding, evoking memories of Jim Montgomery's famous double save as Sunderland upset Leeds at Wembley in 1973.

A second half cameo from midfielder Chris James - capped by an opportunistic goal - was the other positive from an otherwise dark afternoon. "It is a nice feeling to score in a stadium like that and something I can take with me for the rest of my career," said James. "But the final result numbs most of that."

- NZ Herald

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