Chris Rattue at the World Cup
Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Soccer: Reid and Smith come of age on the biggest stage

By Chris Rattue

Winston Reid (left) and Tommy Smith defend another Italian attempt on goal by Antonio Di Natale. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Winston Reid (left) and Tommy Smith defend another Italian attempt on goal by Antonio Di Natale. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Winston Reid and Tommy Smith - they can't stay out of the headlines.

Reid in particular has hogged the limelight, but since quitting Denmark and England for the All Whites' cause the two young defenders have quickly become major players on our soccer landscape.

They were at it again in the stunning draw with World Cup holders Italy at Nelspruit.

Reid had already won instant superstar status with his late goal against Slovakia, the moment that set the World Cup ablaze for the All Whites. Until his 94th-minute header, New Zealand were on track for an early exit and a fall from the limelight.

The moment of inspiration, from a Shane Smetlz cross, was the goal that wrote a mass of headlines. Suddenly Mission Impossible had hope, which was realised in Nelspruit.

Reid turned provider against Italy at Nelspruit, for Smeltz, while Smith had to come back from the shock of conceding a dubious penalty.

Right back Reid caused havoc in the Italian penalty box, from a Simon Elliott free-kick, to set up the Smeltz goal.

Reid's confirmation that he got a headed touch also suggests that Smeltz scored from an offside position. Italy's goal came via the penalty spot, after Daniele De Rossi took a dive after a light tangle with Smith, so it could be argued that the thriller should have been a nil-all draw.

Reid, a quietly spoken man, said: "It was a hard day at the office today - we were running for 90 minutes. But it doesn't get any better than this. The boys played their hearts out."

He added: "People are surprised ... I think we had the belief to do it but I don't think anyone else outside New Zealand did."

Reid praised Smith for putting the penalty decision behind him.

"Tommy did well to shrug that off," he said. "We were a bit harshly done by. He hardly touched him - there was some contact but he didn't pull or push him."

Smith described the penalty decision as a "bit soft" and said it would not have been given in English football, where he plays for Ipswich in the championship division.

"Obviously with the theatrics, the referee has seen that," he said.

"It was only a touch and he's gone down easily. He knew he was not going to get to the ball and he's flung himself to the floor.

"It was just unfortunate for us. You have got to put it behind you and I felt I got on with the game and did my duties."

Smith is showing the hallmarks of a future All Whites captain and even in the euphoria of a draw that seemed like a victory, he gave a realistic analysis of the game.

"We just held on at times and got the result we wanted," he said.

"Maybe we didn't deserve it ... they had a few chances. But we got there in the end."

Smith missed the dressing room celebrations, after he was selected for a drug test.

He said the All Whites saw parts of Paraguay's win over Slovakia.

"They are a very good team but if we can just stay in games then we always have the chance of scoring with our big guys up front and from set pieces.

"We are always capable of scoring that goal. The pressure will be on both teams and I'm looking forward to it."

Smith came to the defence of big striker Rory Fallon, who was yellow-carded for roughing up Italian defenders in the air and replaced to avoid more serious trouble.

"Rory is a particularly big lad and jumping he has to use his arms. The ref saw them falling to the floor and fell for it."

- NZ Herald

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