A real downer for Serb fans in dress rehearsal
There were Slovakian "spies" in the stands for the All Whites' groundbreaking win over Serbia yesterday – but the All Whites have also indulged in "counter-espionage".
Slovakia – the All Whites' first-up opponents in Group F at next month's World Cup finals in South Africa – drew 1-1 yesterday with fellow World Cup finalists Cameroon in the curtain-raiser to the All Whites' epic 1-0 win over the White Eagles of Serbia.
New Zealand goal scorer Shane Smeltz felt the Serbian match was a good dress rehearsal for Slovakia because he suspected the two nations played a similar style.
"I think it's probably a good thing we played a team like Serbia and came away with the right result. We'll learn things from it.
"I think they were in the stands watching us so they'll probably learn a few things as well and I believe we had some people there watching their game beforehand. Everyone's had a little look at each other now and we will obviously see what happens on that date."
Any surprise element the All Whites hoped to take to South Africa has now all but evaporated. The Slovaks should know what to expect now – but then so do the All Whites.
"If they were watching us before the game they probably would have thought Serbia would have won," Smeltz said.
"But with us getting the right result and playing quite well during the game ... not that they would have taken the game lightly, it's a WC game, but they'll certainly have to maybe re-think about how they're going to play us. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but that's the way it is."
Former All Whites coach John Adshead believes Kiwi striker Rory Fallon outshone Serbia's million dollar men in yesterday's upset.
Adshead, who coached the All Whites at the 1982 World Cup finals, said Serb frontrunners Nikola Zigic and Marko Pantelic were highly rated in Europe but he thought Fallon "was probably the best striker on the field".
He was also impressed with Jeremy Christie and Simon Elliott in central midfield in the injured Tim Brown's absence.
Steve Sumner, the 1982 All Whites' World Cup captain, said Nelsen was "outstanding again" but he was also "suitably impressed" with young defenders Tommy Smith, 20, and Winston Reid, 21.
"They didn't show a lot of respect for who they were playing against, they just went out to show how good they were. They are really putting the acid on [for starting places] now."
Sumner said he was heartened by coach Ricki Herbert's comment that he would not be playing people "for the sake of giving them game-time" but would only make "necessary changes" in the final two warmup games against Slovenia on Saturday and Chile in a June 9 training match in South Africa.