Among the euphoria of New Zealand’s historic and dramatic qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was an unanticipated hero of the hour. While stalwarts such as captain Ryan Nelsen and Ivan Vicelich played an important role in the aggregate win over Bahrain, and goalkeeper Mark Paston has been lauded for his penalty save, the name that will certainly be long remembered is hitherto little-known striker Rory Fallon.
Much like Oceania Player of the Century Wynton Rufer, whose goal ultimately sealed the All Whites' berth at Spain 1982, Fallon’s bullet header from a Leo Bertos corner in the final minute of the first half will live long in the annals of New Zealand sport. To add to the synergy surrounding New Zealand’s qualification, and that of the ’82 squad, Rory’s father Kevin was the assistant coach for that famous inaugural and only appearance on the world stage 28 years ago.
After playing for England at youth level, the New Zealand-born striker only debuted for the Kiwis in September but has already made a sizeable impact, forcing teenager Chris Wood from the team-sheet. Now settling into regular starting appearances after three seasons with Plymouth Argyle, the future looks bright for the tall and athletic forward.
*Living the dream
*The slogan in the buld-up to the match was ‘one shot at glory’ and so it proved with Fallon’s goal the difference after a scoreless first-leg in Manama last month. After topping Oceania Zone qualification, New Zealand were faced with the prospect of overcoming Bahrain or missing South Africa with no chance for redemption.
“I saw the ‘82 team (being paraded around the ground) at the start of the warm up and I thought, ‘we need to be in this World Cup because these people are remembered for this long’,” said Fallon after the match. “(It was a case of) This is our greatest opportunity to do this and we can really do something good for the game and really change things in New Zealand."
It could have all been so different though with Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Jaffar denying Fallon with a miraculous save from a near-identical position just minutes before the goal. “The first one (opportunity) I was quite upset with but I just prayed I would get another chance,” stated Fallon. “I always fancy myself when the boys put the balls in. I was visualising today and I just knew I could do it."
*In the blood
*Rory's father Kevin is a famous figure in New Zealand football, not only for his role in the legendary Spain 1982 qualification campaign, but also for a lengthy stint as All Whites coach. Despite a hard-nosed approach to the game, Kevin was reported to be in tears just prior to the match, to which Rory said, “that just goes to show how much it means to him.
"I've got to thank him for all those trainings, waking up at six o'clock in the morning,” he continued. "And there's still more to go, I still have a lot more to accomplish. I just want to thank him for the time he's put into me." Invariably sought out for his views on the state of the game father Kevin was proud to talk on a subject closer to home than is usual: “Both from a coaching perspective and a parent's aspect, it's very, very emotional when your kid does something great, but this seems to be almost destiny," he said.
All Whites 1982 team skipper Steve Sumner perhaps summed it up the best: "What a proud moment for the Fallons. What a good player Rory is. We should bottle that blood!" But the final word goes to Rory who now will look to create another chapter in the history of New Zealand football. Asked if he would like England in New Zealand’s group in South Africa next year: “That would be my dream… England and Australia in the same group (with us).”