May 29, 2010
KLAGENFURT, AUSTRIA – New Zealand stunned world number 15 and fellow FIFA World Cup finalist Serbia with a deserved 1-0 victory in Klagenfurt, Austria today.
Shane Smeltz struck the game’s only goal in the 22nd minute, cutting inside Antonia Rukavina before tucking a shot inside Vladimir Stojkovic’s near post after Rory Fallon had headed Winston Reid’s long pass into the path of his fellow striker.
Ranked 63 places above the All Whites, Serbia are the All Whites biggest scalp since FIFA started publishing its rankings 18 years ago, but with the FIFA World Cup the main focus, New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert was not allowing the team to get ahead of itself.
“It’s always been about performance for us, but a win like this over a top class nation like Serbia is a great bonus.
The victory, just New Zealand’s second on European soil, is a timely fillip given the All Whites face two European nations – Slovakia and World champions Italy – in Group F.
It also gave Herbert some food for thought selection wise, with players staking their claims for a World Cup starting spot.
“We made four changes and I thought Tommy Smith and Winston Reid, who only have three caps between them, did extremely well at the back alongside the captain. Jeremy Christie came into midfield and did well and Chris Wood in his first start against a big team was outstanding.
Two minutes after the opening goal, New Zealand almost found a second following some free-flowing build up but Stojkovic managed to beat away Fallon’s shot and Smeltz’s follow-up was somehow deflected to safety.
Serbia too had their chances, and Neven Subotic could have easily levelled the scores with a back post header in the 39th minute, while a pair of Mark Paston saves midway through the second half kept a deserved clean sheet intact.
Paston was called in to action again in the 73rd minute as to swat away a shot that deflected of Nelsen but substitute Jeremy Brockie almost put the game beyond doubt late in the game when he stole in between Vidic and Subotic and laced his shot into the side netting.
The match was marred by crowd disruption, with objects thrown onto the pitch and a handful of Serbian fans ghosting past pitch side security. Serbia’s captain Vidic did his part to calm the guilty section of the crowd down allowing the Austrian referee to restart play and see out the final few minutes.
Goal hero Smeltz, said the team had the belief that they could get a result against top teams and that the focus remained on their World Cup opener against Slovakia on June 15.
“It’s great to get a win over a nation like Serbia who some are saying are dark horses for the World Cup.
“We’ll take some confidence from it obviously, but we won’t be getting carried away.”
Upon their return to St Lambrecht, the All Whites were greeted by a civic reception at their hotel where traditional Austrian folk dancers and bands welcomed the team.
Tomorrow the All Whites travel to Bad Waltersdorf, where they will be based ahead of Friday’s friendly with Slovenia.
Many of the squad will take time out en route in Graz to watch England take on Japan.
New Zealand 1 (Shane Smeltz 22) Serbia 0
New Zealand: 1-Mark PASTON (GK), 3-Tony LOCHHEAD, 4-Winston REID, 6-Ryan NELSEN (captain), 7 Simon ELLIOTT, 9-Shane SMELTZ, 11-Leo BERTOS, 14-Rory FALLON, 19-Tommy SMITH, 20-Chris WOOD (22-Jeremy BROCKIE 61), 21-Jeremy CHRISTIE.
Substitutes not used: 2-Ben SIGMUND, 5-Ivan VICELICH, 12-Glen MOSS (RGK), 13-Andy BARRON, 15-Michael MCGLINCHEY, 16-Aaron CLAPHAM, 17-David MULLIGAN, 18-Andrew BOYENS, 23-James BANNATYNE (RGK), 8-Cole PEVERLEY
Cautions: Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead
Serbia: 1-Vladimir STOJKOVIC (GK /23-Andjelko DJURICIC 46), 2-Antonio RUKAVINA, 5-Nemanja VIDIC (Captain), 20-Neven SUBOTIC, 16-Ivan OBRADOVIC (3-Aleksandar KOLAROV 21), 22-Zdravko KUZMANOVIC (21-Dragan MRDJA 59), 11-Nenad MILIJAS (4-Gojko KACAR 46), 7-Zoran TOSIC, 18-Milos NINKOVIC, 15-Nikola ZIGIC, 9-Marko PANTELIC (8-Danko LAZOVIC 66).
Substitutes not used: 10-Dejan STANKOVIC, 12-Zeljko BRKIC (RGK), 13-Aleksandar LUKOVIC, 14-Milan JOVANOVIC, 17-Milos KRASIC, 19-Radosav PETROVIC, 24-Bojan ISAILOVIC (RGK).