Herbert happy with All Whites performance

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 06:14 15/11/2012
Chris Wood
Photosport
GOAL SCORER: Chris Wood celebrates his equaliser in the friendly against China.

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There was some pre-match debate about the worth of today's friendly against China but All Whites coach Ricki Herbert will be satisfied with what transpired at the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium in Shanghai.

New Zealand fought back from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw with the hosts, replicating the result of the previous match between the two teams in March last year.

More than the scoreline, though. Herbert would have been happy with other features of the match, such as the opportunity to test a new formation, the performance of midfielders Dan Keat and Tim Payne, and the number of chances New Zealand created when they eventually settled into the match after the opening 30 minutes.

Despite missing Ryan Nelsen at the back and with regular starters Shane Smeltz and Ivan Vicelich also missing from the starting lineup, Herbert's 4-1-4-1 formation, with Keat in the holding midfield role and Chris Wood up front, looked pretty good and probably should have won the match.

They started rustily, however, giving possession away too easily and looking vulnerable in the wide areas, and China capitalised with the opening goal in the 32nd minute when defender Peng Zhao's header from a left-wing corner somehow squeezed between Michael McGlinchey on the near post and goalkeeper Mark Paston.

But from that point on New Zealand were the better team; they controlled possession and created some very good chances. In fact, given the chances they had, Herbert perhaps could have expected a rare win on the road over a team five places higher than the All Whites, at 88, in the world rankings.

"We had a number of our senior players not here tonight, so it was a huge challenge for the young boys that stepped out," Herbert said.

"At the end of the day on chances we probably should have won it."

It was Wood who snared the equaliser in the 44th minute.

The Chinese goalkeeper, Wang, came for but missed a McGlinchey free kick leaving Wood, who has been in a rich vein of form for Millwall in the English Championship, to nod the ball into an open net and atone for an earlier miss in similar circumstances.

Wood should have had a double in first half stoppage time; all he needed to do was get a touch on a ball across the face of goal but he missed it completely, as right back Ben Sigmund had done earlier when he had an airswing from 3m out.

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The second half was simply a continuation of the back end of the first, with a more composed New Zealand looking the most likely to score but unable to find the finish, Payne with perhaps the best chance when he was put through on goal by Marco Rojas but couldn't lift the ball over Wang.

As is often the case in friendlies there were several substitutions - Herbert made five - which affected the flow late in the match. And after creating the best chances thoughout the match New Zealand almost lost it in the sixth minute of stoppage time, but Paston made a brilliant save from point-blank range to earn his crust.

Still, China protected their unbeaten record against New Zealand on home soil, which now sits at three wins and three draws, though New Zealand has the better overall record with six wins and four draws from 13 matches.

"I thought they were more of a counter-attacking team and we had more of the ball," said stand-in All Whites captain Tommy Smith.

"We were passing it around well and created a few chances and we feel like we should have won the game."

New Zealand's next scheduled international is not till March next year when they face New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands in Oceania World Cup qualifiers.

Victory against New Caledonia will seal a berth in the home-and-away intercontinental playoff against the fourth-ranked team from CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean) next November, with the winner of that tie qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

- Stuff

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