NZ Football's Dream Now Reality After Magic Night in the Windy City

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst INovember 16, 2009

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 14:  The All Whites celebrate their win during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier match between New Zealand and Bahrain at Westpac Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)
Marty Melville/Getty Images

On an amazing night at Wellington's westpac trust stadium, the dream of thousands of New Zealand football fans became a reality before their eyes as the "All Whites" finally made the World Cup finals tournament for only the second time in their history.

The game was a tight, tense affair, that, as is often the case in many such sporting sudden death qualification games, was played on a knife edge as both teams moved about the pitch knowing that any wrong move could result in the end of their country's attempt to make the finals in South Africa next year.

I had been lucky enough to get tickets for this amazing occasion and was attending the game with a friend. Looking about at the crowd around me as we made our way into the ground, I saw hundreds of strangers and a smattering of people I knew, but in all the faces I saw there was a hope that was not only quite magical to witness, but infectious and somewhat awe-inspiring.

We walked out of the bowels of the ground into the light just as the ref blew the whistle and so missed the anthems and the pre-match hype.

The buzz surrounding the stadium and in the city was enough to have us ready to become a part of the cauldron that lay before us as we made our way down the steps toward our seats. 

Finally in our seats at the northern end of the ground, I felt every moment with the intensity of emotion that comes with being part of a crowd that is hoping for glory and horrified by the prospect of defeat.

It was a cauldron like no other I had experienced, a gathered mass of white-clad energy. The crowd danced and moved with every kick of the ball.

The Bahrain contingent were doing their best to compete, and to their credit, they kept their drums beating for much of the match.

But compete with the noise of the assembled Aotearoans they could not, as the crowd gave a surge of energy to the players every time they touched the ball. 

Leo Bertos, the local lad who plies his trade with the Wellington Phoenix, was a focal point of the crowd.

Every time he seemed to get the ball the buzz around the stadium would increase slightly at the possibility of him unleashing a piece of magic that could change the game and book NZ's finals place.

It was not Bertos that came up with the magic that started off the period play that would lead to the New Zealand goal,however, but another Wellington lad, Chris Killen, who hit a volley that was wondrous to behold.

But despairingly for the crowd and the team, it struck the cross bar and flew into the air and away.

This proved to be a signal to New Zealand that maybe it was going to be their night as the team fed off the energy that moment gave them.

The crowd spurred them on to surge confidently forward, picking holes in the Bahrain side as they searched and prodded for the opening that they believed would come.

Just before the end of the half, it was to be elation for New Zealanders on the pitch and everywhere as Bertos swung in a corner kick that was to prove the undoing of the Bahrain keepers sterling efforts to keep his goal intact.

Six foot four Rory Fallon rose amidst a crowd of players and slammed the header into the back of the net and the stadium erupted in a burst of white light.

To those within the stadium, it shook the ground like the eruption of one of the many volcanoes that litter the New Zealand landscape might have many years ago, truly tremulous.

It was a glorious moment as people danced in the aisles, hugged complete strangers, and sang unintelligible lyrics that just seemed to sound right.

Half time was like a dream as we strolled about the cavern of the stadium, marveling at the elation on the faces of all present. Truly a memory that will be impossible to forget, the sheer beauty of it is something that I will remember always.

Back in our seats we were soon to get a shock that would bring us back to earth with a shudder equally as earth shaking.

New Zealand defender Tony Lochead was unfortunate enough to foul his opponent in the area and the referee wasted no time in pointing straight to the spot. Tragedy, we flung up our hands in horror as all seemed lost.

It was in this moment that another hero was to come into his own beneath the windy skies of New Zealand's capital.

Mark Paston was under an injury cloud after taking a knock in an A-League match recently and on top of this was only playing in the tie as a replacement for the suspended NZ No. 1, Glen Moss.

This was all forgotten as Bahrain's Sayed Mohamed Adnan stepped up to take the penalty that could bring the game level and put the Bahrain team into the finals.

The crowd was the quietest it had been all night as he made the strike that could break New Zealand's World Cup dreams into pieces.

But then, Paston saved it.

Again, it was euphoria, more hugging strangers, dancing, and hoarse-throated chanting of unintelligible lyrics.

After that save, the game visibly shifted toward the New Zealanders as the Bahrain side realized they might have lost their chance to make the finals again.

It was not over yet though, because despite tearing the Bahrain defence to pieces again and again, they could not find the finish that would seal the victory.

Bahrain had of course stolen victory from the jaws of defeat in the last game they played against the Saudi Arabians, and Paston was called into vital action on several more occasions.

Injury time seemed to drag into an eternity before those magical peeps were heard from the officials whistle, like a Bacchian symphony signalling the dawn of an ancient mythic festival, the signal for the crowd to roar the triumph to the ends of the country.

The cheering seemed to go on forever as we stood in our seats and sang and yelled the glory that was upon us in that magic moment.

The triumphant team did the lap of honor to the delight of the fans and special applause and adoration was saved for coach Ricki Herbert who could barely contain his emotion at the significance of his achievement in bringing the team to this moment.

We trooped out of the ground and into the night, elation in our eyes, smiles on our faces, and a warmth in our hearts that not even the coldest and strongest Wellington wind could blow away.

New Zealand are going to the World Cup for the second time ever and no matter what happens at the tournament, we have already won our final.


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