x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

New Zealand revel in 'their special night'

After waiting 28 years to return to the World Cup finals, New Zealand were happy to take their time in securing a first ever point in the competition against Slovakia.

RUSTENBURG // After waiting 28 years to return to the World Cup finals, New Zealand were happy to take their time in securing a first ever point in the competition. Winston Reid scored three minutes into injury time to give them a 1-1 draw against Slovakia - a result Vladimir Weiss, the coach of the European side, called a "minor sporting tragedy". Shane Smeltz crossed the ball for Reid to head in at the near post after Robert Vittek had given Slovakia the lead in the 50th minute, heading in a cross from Stanislav Sestak.

"Tonight's a special night for me, I couldn't be any prouder," said Ricki Herbert, the New Zealand coach who turned to Kiwi fans in the stands and pumped his arms in celebration after the equaliser. "I thought the opening game was a good chance to get something and I would have been disappointed with a loss after conceding a goal like that. But we kept coming, the boys kept coming." Weiss, leading his country in their first international tournament since Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, said his players were deflated.

"We were the better team over the game. It's a pity we didn't take our chances," Weiss said. All four teams have one point in Group F after Italy and Paraguay drew 1-1 on Monday. "We still have two heavyweights to go and they will be tough," Herbert said. "I think we showed the kind of football we play now is conducive to results." Meanwhile, Gianluigi Buffon, the Italy goalkeeper, has a "serious" back problem and the team physician is not sure when he will be able to play again in the World Cup. Buffon exited at half time against Paraguay and was replaced by Federico Marchetti.

Enrico Castellacci , the team physician, said that the problem was with the left side of Buffon's sciatic nerve, adding that "at the moment, no date can be set for his return". * AP Man of the match: Vladimir Weiss (Slovakia)

Group F
Country M W D L GF GA Pts
Italy 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
Paraguay 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
New Zealand 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
Slovakia 1 0 1 0 1 1 1