WELLINGTON, June 21 – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key led national celebrations Monday after football minnows the All Whites achieved an astonishing 1-1 World Cup draw against reigning champions Italy.With two draws from their first two games, fans and New Zealand football officials started contemplating the once impossible dream of qualifying for the second round, with one pool match remaining against Paraguay.
"It was just sensational — my heart was racing for the last 30 minutes, it was just an incredible atmosphere," Key told Television New Zealand.
"They just played with guts the whole way didn’t they? They had so much courage, it was just incredible," said Key, who travelled to South Africa to watch the match Sunday at Nelspruit.
Asked afterwards by reporters whether one of New Zealand’s greatest sporting achievements warranted a public holiday, Key joked: "Damn fine idea. I want the country to enjoy this. They’ll be dancing all over the place."
Last Wednesday New Zealanders were celebrating the 1-1 draw by their 78th world ranked team against Slovakia and describing the result from the first World Cup clash as one of New Zealand’s greatest sporting feats.
Early Monday — the match started at 2:00 am New Zealand time — fans had reached new heights of ecstasy as the All Whites held out the world’s fifth-ranked Italy.
New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum, who was goalkeeper for New Zealand during their only previous World Cup finals appearance in 1982, paid tribute to his successor in the current team, Mark Paston.
Sitting with Key in the Nelspruit stadium, van Hattum suggested how Paston could be thanked for keeping out a barrage of second half shots by Italy.
"I did reach over to the prime minister and say ‘This man deserves a knighthood’ and he said ‘He can have whatever he wants right now’," he told Radio New Zealand.
John Adshead — who coached the All Whites at the 1982 World Cup — likened the result to New Zealander Edmund Hillary reaching the top of Mount Everest for the first time with Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
"It was like waking up and hearing that Everest had just been climbed by Hillary. It had that same effect this morning," Adshead told Radio New Zealand.
He said New Zealand had defied predictions so far and there was a chance they could do it once more against Paraguay and qualify for the second round.
"Paraguay have got to score goals against us and that is proving to be very, very difficult."
"Can we get something out of the Paraguay game? Can we go to the next level of the World Cup which is totally unbelievable? I’ve got to say the answer is yes."
New Zealand would probably need to beat Paraguay to go through if Italy can regroup and beat Slovakia in their final Group F match, van Hattum said.
"Paraguay are some side. They’ve just beaten Slovakia 2-0, they’ll be extremely tough."
"We dare to believe — the guys will be thinking how are they going to do this."
Fairfax Media said the result showed New Zealand belonged in football’s big league.
"In one of the greatest upsets in world football, (coach) Ricki Herbert’s men showed that 11 brave, well-organised, skilled Kiwis can foot it with the millionaires from the Serie A," Fairfax said.
The New Zealand Herald contrasted New Zealand with a total of 25 professional footballers to Italy’s 3,541.
"A country which had played just four World Cup matches before this morning drew with one which has won four World Cup titles. Crazy," the Herald said.