Iraq frustrated as Kiwis make point
© AFP

New Zealand clung on to frustrate Iraq by holding them to a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg, a result which gave the Kiwis their first ever point at the FIFA Confederations Cup. 

Considering that Bafana Bafana were playing in such a crucial game at exactly the same time, the 23,295 supporters that came to Ellis Park Stadium deserve tremendous credit. There was no surprise that they gave their full, vociferous backing to the New Zealanders, who began the game under a huge amount of pressure from the Asian champions.

Firstly, Emad Mohammed's downward header from Salam Shaker's corner bounced narrowly over the bar and on to the roof of the net. Then, Glen Moss, who has been in fine form for the All Whites during this tournament, produced a brave save to deny Emad from a one-one-one situation.

His fellow No10, former Celtic striker Chris Killen, failed to keep the ball down from 12 yards after Jeremy Brockie had delivered him the perfect cross, and Killen had his head in his hands once again when he missed the chance of the first half just before the interval, heading over from Simon Elliott's corner while completely unmarked.

However, it was not just Killen who was guilty of missing chances for Ricki Herbert's men during an opening 45 minutes dominated by New Zealand. Shane Smeltz had three decent opportunities to break the deadlock. In the 28th minute he squeezed a shot wide under pressure from the Iraq defence, before glancing a header narrowly wide from an inch-perfect cross from Leo Bertos and then forcing a low save out of Mohammed Kassid with a well-placed header.

The game ebbed and flowed from end to end early in the second half, with Iraq's attempts to force the initiative nullified by some committed New Zealand defending. However, as news of Spain's lead came through from Mangaung/Bloemfontein, Bora Milutinovic decided to try and change the game by bringing on forward Alaa Abdul Zahra and Salih Sadir for Imad and Mahdi Kareem.

Even with Spain doubling their advantage, Iraq were resorting to long-range efforts from Karrar Jasim and Salih, which failed to trouble Moss in the New Zealand goal. In fact, it was New Zealand who looked more likely to score the winner and it almost came when Killen's shot on the turn went narrowly wide.

Arguably, Iraq's best chance came in the 87th minute when Karrar's shot came off Moss's face and away to safety, and Killen failed to connect with a shot from close range in a frantic finale.

The South African fans cheered every New Zealand tackle, clearance and successful pass as they endeavoured to keep their first clean sheet at a FIFA Confederations Cup in eight attempts - and there was still time for Moss to play the hero once more with a flying save from Salih in added time. Lochhead also cleared from the line as the Kiwis hung on for their first-ever point in the competition.