Soccer: All Whites hold on to stun Serbia

Serbia 0 All Whites 1

New Zealand's All Whites scored a shock win over Serbia in a World Cup football warm-up friendly match in Klagenfurt, Austria today (NZT), coach Ricki Herbert labelling the victory the most significant in the country's soccer history.

Serbia's captain Nemanja Vidic had to appeal for calm over the public address system as his team's fans threatened to invade the pitch during the second half.

A Shane Smeltz goal in the 22nd minute was enough to beat the world's 15th ranked team, which includes many players from the top ranked clubs in Europe.

The All Whites spent most of the second half defending but showed enough steel to hold out Serbia and gain some confidence ahead of the World Cup.

Serbia dominated the first 20 minutes with some neat interpassing, but the closest they came to scoring was with a free kick which goalkeeper Mark Paston was forced to punch away and it was somewhat against the run of play that the All Whites went ahead.

Rory Fallon beat Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic to knock on a long ball from Winston Reid to Smeltz, who turned his marker and beat Vladimir Stojkovic in the Serbian goal.

It was nearly 2-0 just two later, Stojkovic being forced into a diving save from a left footed strike by Fallon.

Serbia controlled most of the match from that point and went close to scoring when Neven Subotic missed an open header from a free kick which was inadvertently flicked to him from Jeremy Christie.

Serbia came out strongly in the second half as the All Whites seemed intent on keeping as many players back as possible, and the Serbs went close in the 47th minute when Simon Elliott blocked a strike from Marko Pantelic.

The All Whites had two useful chances in the 57th and 60th minute, as Fallon first headed a corner over, and then Reid couldn't catch up with another Fallon flick-on.

Paston was in action shortly afterwards, being forced into a close save from Nikola Zigic as the big Valencia forward was being pressured by Reid.

All Whites substitute Jeremy Brockie just missed the left hand post after being put through by Fallon and Smeltz, but the last 10 minutes was mainly spent on defence as Serbia pressed.

Zigic again went close near the finish with a header, but the All Whites held on to score an important confidence-building victory ahead of the World Cup in South Africa.

The latter minutes of the match were disrupted by Serbian supporters trying to get onto the ground. Star Manchester United defender Vidic eventually got onto a public address microphone to ask his supporters to calm down.

Herbert said the win was the most significant in New Zealand soccer history.

"For us it's a fantastic result, it's the best we've ever had in the history of the game to beat a team at that level.

"[Serbia] is a world class team, they qualified top of their group here to France and they're going to go into the World Cup a very, very strong team."

The team had been tired after a travelling from Melbourne, so for them to win at such a high level was extremely promising.

"I changed the team a little bit because the trip from Melbourne was pretty horrendous really - it was such a long way and the players were tired - and I wanted to see Winston [Reid] and Tommy [Smith] play and see how they go against a world class team.

"At the end of the day to not only win the game but concede no goals either was great," he said.

Reid and Smith had been "superb" and their performances would make it difficult to select a starting 11 for South Africa.

"Their performances are going to be tough to be go past," he said.

Security had never been a real concern during the match - despite Serbian supporters running onto the ground - and the referee had handled the situation professionally, he said.

"There was more a mutual decision to finish the game.

"It was a sensible sort of decision to defuse the emotion in the stands and run the clock down until the game had been completed. At the end of the day it was no harm to anybody," he said.

Goal scorer Smeltz said the All Whites' win had probably shocked a few people ahead of the World Cup, and would further add to the team's confidence.

"We're away from home playing against a top nation in Serbia who many think are dark horses for the World Cup so it's fantastic...We will take some confidence from it but we won't be getting carried away either"

The last time the All Whites won a game in Europe was their 3-1 victory over Georgia, then ranked 100 in the world, in 2006.

- NZPA

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