All Whites, El Salvador draw in Houston
Apart from an overdue mark in the W-column, All Whites football coach Ricki Herbert would have got everything he wanted out of today's entertaining 2-2 draw with El Salvador in Houston, Texas.
In part forced by injury and unavailability, the All Whites side had a fresh look to it with a new captain, Tommy Smith, two debutants - Ian Hogg and substitute Cameron Howieson - and several young players inexperienced at senior international level, but they acquitted themselves admirably in what was essentially an away match against the 49th-ranked team in the world.
There were some shaky moments at the back, perhaps not surprising given Ryan Nelsen's guiding hand was missing through injury, but they were more than compensated by an encouraging attacking performance which built on the 3-2 loss to Jamaica in February.
At the forefront was Kosta Barbarouses, who provided the assist for the first goal and scored New Zealand's second - his first for the All Whites - with a tidy finish from a rebounded Shane Smeltz shot that drew the All Whites level for the second time, in the 64th minute.
Hogg, who had a tidy allround match playing basically a left wing-back, ensured his senior international debut would be a memorable one with New Zealand's first goal midway through the first half, driving into the box after a neat layoff from Barbarouses before rifling a stinging shot from an acute angle low into the far corner.
New Zealand were quick out of the blocks and could easily have taken the lead inside 10 minutes when veteran Ivan Vicelich put his midfield mate Michael McGlinchey one-on-one with Benji Villalobos in the Salvadoran goal, but McGlinchey's finish couldn't match his excellent run as he failed with his attempted lob.
El Salvador took the lead, against the run of play, on 13 minutes when Rafael Burgos latched onto a hopeful long ball and with his first touch beat Mark Paston to score what was essentially an opportunist goal.
There was a strong hint of offside but New Zealand's back three was nonetheless caught too square and Burgos finished delightfully for his eighth goal from 16 internationals.
Both sides were guilty of wayward passing, and there was slack defending at both ends, but it made for an entertaining first 45 and, encouragingly, New Zealand shaded their higher ranked opponents in terms of chances.
They got the equaliser their efforts deserved in the 27th minute through Hogg, and should have gone a goal up immediately from the re-start when Barbarouses was involved again.
The Russian-based Wellingtonian delivered a perfectly weighted through ball into Shane Smeltz's path but the usually clinical striker failed to round the keeper as Villalobos made a desperate diving save.
Paston also made a couple of top saves at his end as New Zealand's defence opened up a tad more than Herbert would have liked, without being brutally exposed.
Marco Rojas should have put the Kiwis up two minutes into the second stanza but his shot his the post, and the Salvadorans made them pay soon after, albeit luckily, when Burgos' cross took a wicked deflection off Michael Boxall's knee and made a beeline for Paston's goal.
Barbarouses' equaliser eight minutes later set up a fascinating final 25 minutes but as the heat started to take its toll, the substitutions rolled in and some of the pace was taken of the game.
Herbert handed young Burnley midfielder Howieson a debut and also made several other changes, but they weren't enough to force a winner. The result: another credible draw.
New Zealand round out their short trip to the United States weith a match against Honduras in Dallas on Sunday, before heading to the Solomon Islands for the Oceania Nations Cup.
El Salvador 2 (Rafael Burgos, Michael Boxall og) New Zealand 2 (Ian Hogg, Kosta Barbarouses). Halftime: 1-1.
- © Fairfax NZ News