Winston Reid scored a dramatic equaliser in the closing moments of injury time to give New Zealand a 1- draw against Slovakia and earn the all Whites their first-ever point in the World Cup finals.
It was also New Zealand’s first goal in the finals for 28 years and sparked joyous celebrations among the the small band All Whites supporters inside the Royal Bafokeng stadium.
It was an historic moment in New Zealand football, considering the Kiwis had lost all three of their previous group matches at their only other appearance in the finals in 1982.
Slovakia had been on course for a perfect start in their debut World Cup as an independent nation after Robert Vittek’s 50th-minute header.
Vladimir Weiss’s team will feel a little hard done by as they were the better side, outplaying the unheralded New Zealanders for long periods. Ultimately, though, they paid the price for their failure to press on for a second, preferring instead to settle for a one-goal victory.
The first half, in keeping with much of the tournament so far, was a disappointing spectacle, with both sides lacking the spark to unlock two well-organised defences.
The most exciting moment of the half came from a mistake from New Zealand keeper Mark Paston who miscued his kick-out. Vittek seized on the mistake but his ponderous movements allowed Paston to recover.
At the interval, Ricki Herbert’s team will have felt that this was a job half done, but all their defensive efforts were undermined just five minutes after the break as Vittek headed Slovakia in front.
Sestak whipped a good, early cross into the penalty area from the right and Lille’s Vittek headed past Paston to open the scoring.
The goal settled Slovakia’s nerves and they began to dominate, although there were few real moments of danger for the New Zealand defence to deal with.
Until the last five minutes New Zealand’s best effort had been when Killen rose in the penalty area but sent his header straight into the arms of Slovakia goalkeeper Jan Mucha.
Yet they mounted a spirited late rally which saw substitute Wood go close with a diving header. With seconds remaining, the defender went one better, getting on the end of Shane Smeltz superb cross, to leave New Zealand, Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay level on a point each in Group F.
New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia
New Zealand: Reid 90+3
Slovakia: Vittek 50
New Zealand: 01 Paston, 03 Lochhead, 04 Reid, 06 Nelsen, 19 Smith, 05 Ivan Vicelich (Christie, 78), 07 Simon Elliott, 11 Bertos, 09 Smeltz, 10 Killen (Wood, 72), 14 Fallon
Slovakia: 01 Mucha, 03 Skrtel, 04 Cech, 05 Zabavnik, 06 Strba, 07 Weiss, 16 Durica, 17 Hamsik (Juraj Kucka, 90+1), 09 Sestak (Holosko, 81), 11 Vittek (Stoch, 84), 18 Jendrisek.
Referee: Jerome Damon