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Fallon Header And Paston Save Carry All Whites To South Africa

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Auckland, Nov 14 NZPA - A headed goal from Rory Fallon and a penalty save by Mark Paston in Wellington tonight carried the All Whites to the World Cup soccer finals in South Africa next year.

New Zealand's 1-0 over Bahrain in the second leg of their qualifier gave them a 1-0 aggregate result, sparking scenes of jubilation among the home players and most of the capacity 35,000 crowd.

It will be just the second time the All Whites appear at a finals tournament and the first since Spain in 1982, when present coach Ricki Herbert was in the squad.

Herbert was virtually speechless immediately after the match. "This group behind me, they've given it everything -- four years of total commitment," he told Sky Sport.

"We're back. We're there. South Africa, here we are."

Herbert, who gave Paston a kiss after the final whistle, said the team had done their preparation for a penalty scenario.

"We had done a little bit of homework and Pastie's pulled one out of the top drawer," he said.

"He's done a big one for us. We thought we could get through without conceding a goal. We thought one would do it and we're there."

Paston had overcome a hip problem to take his place in the side and he described his save as "a bit surreal, really".

"I basically guessed which way and it ended up in my hands and I got up and went on with the game really."

He said it would take a few days for the realisation to sink in that New Zealand were indeed off to the World Cup.

For Bahrain, however, it was agony at the last hurdle once again, after they missed out at the same stage four years ago against Trinidad and Tobago.

The match in Westpac Stadium had plenty of goalmouth action, as both teams sought the decisive strike that would take them to South Africa.

Bahrain began strongly and the All Whites found themselves having to withstand some early pressure, with defender Ben Sigmund yellow carded in just the third minute for a tackle from behind.

But the home side became to impose themselves on the contest.

In the eighth minute, skipper Ryan Nelsen headed on to the roof of the net from a Leo Bertos free kick which was nodded back by Shane Smeltz.

Eleven minutes later, striker Chris Killen, who worked tirelessly during his 83 minutes on the field, almost got New Zealand ahead.

Another Bertos free kick was headed into the danger area by Sigmund, and Killen rattled the crossbar with a volley from 12m out.

Bertos, showing far more attacking threat wide in midfield than in the opening leg, when he found himself occupied with defensive duties, then hit a another free kick just over the bar.

But Bahrain also threatened, particularly when striker Jaycee John's snap shot from outside the box forced a good save from Paston.

The All Whites again came close five minutes from halftime.

Bertos did well to make it to the right edge of the box, and his chip was well met by Fallon, whose header was blocked by a superb one-handed reaction save from keeper Sayed Jaffer.

But, with the interval beckoning, Fallon wasn't to be denied a second time as he met Bertos' corner from 6m out and buried his header into the back of the net.

It was the former England age-group international's second goal for New Zealand in his third appearance.

Bahrain, who missed two gilt-edged chances at home, had another in the 51st minute when Abdulla Omar, put through by a great pass from Abdulla Fatadi, was brought down by Tony Lochhead in the penalty box.

Uruguay referee Jorge Larrionda had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, but Paston thwarted penalty taker Sayed Mohamed with a fine save, diving to his right.

Bahrain continued to press for the equaliser that would have given them the tie on the away goals rule and Paston was called in to deal with plenty of half-chances.

New Zealand also had their opportunities though, with Smeltz putting a shot wide and Fallon having an effort blocked.

In a tense finish, Bahrain did get the ball into the net via Fatadi, but the referee ruled for an earlier infringement on Paston.

In injury time, Smeltz almost added New Zealand's second but shot just wide, before Paston snuffed out Bahrain's final attack to the huge relief of the crowd.

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