Soccer: 5 big All Whites moments

It's the 93rd minute of the opening game against Slovakia and a respectable 1-0 loss seems the All Whites' fate.

However, Shane Smeltz's smart turn and cross gives one last chance.

It's perfectly weighted, delivered inch perfectly, and up climbs young defender Winston Reid, who, with a sharp twist of his neck muscles, sends the ball into the bottom-right corner of the net.

The connection wasn't perfect, but it was to New Zealand eyes, and Reid raced off to the corner flag, waving his shirt to be engulfed by his teammates. A hero was born.

Talk about leaving it late-and what was the defender doing up there in the first place?

As it happened, he was reviving the All Whites' flame, keeping the dream alive.

It was NZ's first World Cup goal since Steve Wooddin drilled a shot past Scottish goalkeeper Alan Rough 28 years ago.

Seven minutes in against the defending world champions Italy and the All Whites turned the contest on its head.

Simon Elliott's expertly delivered cross, a slight deflection off Reid's head - or maybe not - a misjudgment from master Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro and Smeltz - possessed of the goal poacher's instinct - pounced, nudging the ball past Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti.

It was the goal that set up the greatest achievement in New Zealand soccer history. Not to forget . . .

His penalty save against Bahrain got the All Whites to South Africa; now he put behind him a shaky performance against Slovakia with a string of high-class saves against Italy.

The best, which is bound to show up at the end of the tournament in a list of the finest saves of the tournament, came in the 69th minute.

Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo pressed forward and let fly from 25m with a scorching drive, which seemed destined for the right-hand corner.

Paston leaped salmon-like, stuck out a big right mitt and deflected the ball past the upright. It was the moment New Zealand fans started to believe the impossible.

Italian fans, convinced of their team's worth on the highest stage and enaourmered of their captain, were stunned to seea19-year-old substitute striker from New Zealand turn Fabio Cannavaro inside-out and blaze a shot at goal that could have brought ultimate glory for the All Whites.

Chris Wood narrowly missed the net, sparing the Azzuris' blushes for the moment and preserving the 1-1 scoreline that was to ultimately prove fatal to the reigning champions' campaign.

The West Bromwich striker was introduced in the 62nd minute for Rory Fallon, bringing fresh legs to hurry back in defence. But his dazzling turn near the opposition box, marked the end of an era Italy.

If that Paston save was the spark to inspire the All Whites, it was the outstretched leg of captain Ryan Nelsen three minutes later that persuaded the underdogs this was indeed their night.

Under the pump from relentless blue waves of Italian attackers, the All Whites were hanging on. A ball was crossed in hard and flat from the left. Nelsen leaped and swung his right foot horizontally to sweep the ball away from 3m out and right in front of the New Zealand goal, with Italian attackers circling.

If ever a moment shouted "this is our day", that was it. The All Whites drew on self-belief for the remaining 18 minutes.

- NZ Herald

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