Ryan Nelsen has hailed New Zealand's landmark draw with Slovakia as a tribute to the indomitable Kiwi spirit. The All Whites defied the odds to claim their first FIFA World Cup™ point thanks to Winston Reid's stoppage time equaliser against the highly-rated Slovakians on Tuesday.
Nelsen, the Blackburn defender who captains the side, said New Zealand had done more than enough to earn a point in their first FIFA World Cup appearance since suffering defeats by Scotland, Brazil and the Soviet Union in Spain in their only previous finals appearance, in 1982.
"One hundred percent I think it is down to spirit," Nelsen said. "You're playing at altitude, it's windy, it's sunny and you are playing a really well organised team. In those circumstances, to create two chances in the last two minutes; you only do it by chancing your arm, by fighting, by giving it everything and the boys did that."
The jubilant celebrations of the New Zealand players after the last gasp equaliser made it clear how much the draw meant to the squad. "I knew we would never give up and we never did," Nelsen added. "The goal just topped off a fantastic day. We actually had a bit of a celebration planned if we were to score but that obviously went out the window."
Nelsen would not be drawn on what exactly the players had in store. "You will have to wait and see. Hopefully there will be another goal and we can do it then," he said. Nelsen added: "It is just great because everyone out there was looking at New Zealand and thinking we were just making up the numbers. It really annoyed everybody because we are a pretty good team. Now to get a result against a team that qualified from a group that included Poland, the Czechs and Slovenia, is very positive."
Nelsen believes New Zealand can now entertain realistic hopes of making it to the knockout stages if they can pull off a win against either world champions Italy, or, more realistically, Paraguay.
"I said to the boys before that it is a 90-minute game but it only takes a few seconds to etch your name in history," Nelsen said. "Those few seconds came in the 93rd minute but it is a fantastic feeling. What this has done is given us something to play for in the next two games. Now we need a win. If we can get a win, whether its against Italy or Paraguay, you never know, we could go through."
Nelsen paid tribute to the fortitude of Reid, who had been at fault when Robert Vittek headed Slovakia into the lead but bounced back to claim the winner, vindicating his decision to pledge his allegiance to the country of his birth having spent his teenage years in Denmark, for whom he won ten U-21 caps.
The captain said: "Winston is just a young kid, a young man and that is what you have to do in top international sport. You have to keep your confidence and try to affect the game. It only takes a couple of seconds to do something special and he did that. It was not just the goal, he also had a fantastic block when Vittek had a chance to score a second which would probably have killed us."