A last-gasp Winston Reid header snatched New Zealand an improbable draw against a dominant Slovakia side in their Group F opener in Rustenburg. Robert Vittek had put the Europeans in front, also with his head, in the 50th minute but the All Whites hit back for a result that leaves the section's four sides level on one point – and goal difference – after Italy and Paraguay also drew 1-1 yesterday.
New Zealand defied their underdogs' status in the opening five minutes. First Chris Killen broke free from his marker just inside the Slovakia half, charged forward and unleashed a shot that flew over. Then the same player headed wide from an inviting Leo Bertos cross. That seemed to awaken the Europeans. Vladimir Weiss, son of the Slovakia coach, darted down the right flank before producing a low cross that Mark Paston did well to hold, before Robert Vittek cut inside before blazing a shot high and wide.
The flair of Weiss was thrilling the crowd and on 22 minutes, the Slovakia No7 found space down the left and threaded the ball through to Marek Hamsik, who curled it wide from inside the area. Weiss then craftily laid on a chance for Stanislav Sestak, who fired into the side-netting. Minutes later the No9 missed another chance, this time from a close-range header following a corner. With ten minutes of the half remaining, Vittek cut inside from the right and fired a fierce 20-yard shot wide.
New Zealand, who had been spectators for a period, then went close. Following a neat passing move, Smeltz played a give-and-go with Rory Fallon before shooting into the side-netting from a difficult angle. It proved a brief respite, as the Slovaks dominated possession for the remainder of the half, albeit without creating any meaningful opportunities. They did just that five minutes after the restart, though, and this time they took full advantage. Sestak crossed from the right, and Vittek powered his header into the bottom corner. It was just reward for Slovakia's relentless assault on the Kiwis' goal.
Rather than sit back, the team in blue went in search of a second goal. After 58 minutes Sestak held the ball up well and touched it into the path of Hamsik, who failed to keep his shot down from the edge of the area. Slovakia almost doubled their lead soon after. Zdenko Strba and Sestak exchanged passes, before the latter set up Vittek. However, Paston rushed from his line to make a smart block from the 28-year-old forward.
It took an alert Tony Lochhead to deny Vittek a clear sight on goal with 15 minutes remaining, before Smeltz headed wide from a rare New Zealand attack with just minutes remaining. It appeared then that their last chance had gone, but deep into injury time Smeltz crossed for Reid to steal in and nod home a dramatic equaliser.