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All Whites' Win Greatest Ever, Herbert Says

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Fuseworks Media
Ricki Herbert
Ricki Herbert

Wellington, May 30 NZPA - For one usually so measured and understated, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert was elated about his team's 1-0 victory over Serbia today, labelling it the best win in New Zealand soccer history.

A Shane Smeltz goal in the 22nd minute was enough to secure victory over Serbia, the world's 15th-ranked team, in the World Cup warm-up friendly in Klagenfurt, Austria.

"For us it's a fantastic result, it's the best we've ever had in the history of the game, to beat a team at that level," Herbert said.

The victory trumped New Zealand's unforgettable World Cup qualifying win over Bahrain in Wellington last November.

"It's going to take a bit to take away the euphoria of November 14 but I think playing a team ranked that high in the world and to beat them here is a terrific result," he said.

New Zealand, ranked 78th in the world, were heavy underdogs entering the match, so the result let the soccer world know the All Whites were a force to be reckoned with, he said.

"I think around the world it's probably going to send a few little messages."

The All Whites were without vice-captain Tim Brown, who underwent surgery on a fractured shoulder last week, and key striker Chris Killen, who missed the game in order to get married, but still created goalscoring opportunities.

"It's showing the depth of the squad," Herbert said.

"We're always likely to score now, whoever we play."

The game looked like it would be called off when Serbian fans threatened to invade the pitch and threw objects during the second half, prompting Serbia's captain Nemanja Vidic to appeal for calm over the public address system.

But Herbert said there were never any real concerns for his team's safety, and both sides were keen to complete the game.

Serbia dominated the first 20 minutes with some neat interpassing, but the closest they came to scoring was with a free kick which goalkeeper Mark Paston was forced to punch away and it was somewhat against the run of play that the All Whites went ahead.

Rory Fallon beat Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic to knock on a long ball from Winston Reid to Smeltz, who turned his marker and beat Vladimir Stojkovic in the Serbian goal, Smeltz' 16th goal in 29 matches for the All Whites.

Serbia came close to equalising but defender Neven Subotic failed to finish off a header just 2m out from the New Zealand goal. And then it was nearly 2-0 after a left-footed Fallon strike forced Stojkovic into a diving save.

Serbia controlled most of the match from that point and went close to equalising when Neven Subotic missed an open header from a free kick which was inadvertently flicked to him from Jeremy Christie.

Serbia came out strongly in the second half as the All Whites seemed intent on keeping as many players back as possible, and the Serbs went close in the 47th minute when Simon Elliott blocked a strike from Marko Pantelic.

The All Whites had two useful chances in the 57th and 60th minutes, as Fallon headed a corner over the bar then Winston Reid couldn't catch up with another Fallon flick-on.

Paston was in action shortly afterwards, being forced into a close save from Nikola Zigic as the big Valencia forward was being pressured by Reid.

All Whites substitute Jeremy Brockie just missed the left-hand post after being put through by Fallon and Smeltz, but the last 10 minutes were mainly spent on defence as Serbia pressed.

Zigic again went close near the finish with a header, but the All Whites held on to score an important confidence-building victory ahead of the World Cup in South Africa.

New Zealand are in group F in South Africa with Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia and play another friendly against Slovenia on Saturday morning (NZT) in Maribor, Slovenia.

Serbia are drawn in group D against Germany, Ghana and Australia. They play Poland in a friendly on Thursday in Kufstein, Austria.

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