Best pub dining in New South Wales: awards

From best pub to best burger, most family-friendly to best newcomer. The Pub Food Guide 2014 awards celebrate the best in pub dining across the state.

Jane Holroyd

Best steak ...The Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay.

What do you look for in a pub? Fresh-tasting tap beer is an obvious place to start. Nice atmosphere, friendly staff, a good crowd and great pub grub are musts. But what makes a hotel a cut above the pack?

How about weaving all these factors together, then tossing in a nice renovation, a brilliant view and – well, this point may polarise – some nice soft grass out the back for the kids to roll around on?

The beef burger at the Woolwich Pier Hotel.

Best pub … awarded to Woolwich Pier Hotel.Photo: Steven Siewert

That’s right, the newly anointed “best” hotel for dining is the Woolwich Pier Hotel, announced at the Pub Food Guide 2014awards in Sydney on Monday night.

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The harbourside pub, a previous three-schooner winner, took out top honours in part because of its kid-friendly features, plus its menu, which takes in everything from a typical-style pub burger to confit duck and, for the daytime crowd, high tea.

Speaking before the awards, guide editor Keith Austin said the Woolwich was typical of NSW’s modern pub scene; while still essentially serving pub grub and schooners, much more thought is put into the ingredients and presentation of meals and there’s a definite trend towards providing a family-friendly atmosphere to bring in more customers.

Austin pointed to the winner of the Best Newcomer award, The Henson in Marrickville. “It has a playground out the back … and there’s even a pub that had clowns to entertain the kids.”

Austin said that, while not everyone would be happy about the trend, pubs that embraced families were on to a winner. This year’s Best Family Friendly gong was awarded to The Belrose Hotel.

But by far the biggest change has been the quality of food served up in our pubs, Austin said. Salmon, an old pub favourite, is now likely to arrive at your table just pink and crisp on the outside, he said. “A few years ago it would have been cooked to death.”

While many pubs have stuck with the tried-and-true pub classics, such as burgers and schnitzels, many chefs were lifting the bar by making their ingredients in-house, while bar staff sourced quality craft beers to keep the punters enthused.

“House-made pickles are everywhere,” said Austin.

And burgers are no longer about a “slab of meat between two pieces of bread … the bun might be a sweet brioche and the meat carefully sourced”.

The Commercial Hotel (Gerry’s) in Millthorpe was singled out at the awards for its take on the pub burger: saltbush lamb with beetroot, caramelised onion and a side of sweet potato “rounds” with a mayonnaise and curry-spice dip to cap it off.

The trend towards quality nosh was best exemplified by Carrington Place; its chef-ownerScott Webster was named Best Pub Chef with his running mate, head chef Scott McLean.

All up more than 100 reviewers worked on the 2014 Pub Food Guide, which includes up-to-date entries on more than 400 of NSW’s finest. A total of 15 pubs were awarded top recognition, the three schooners award.

New South Wales’ Best Country Pub award went to the Willow Tree Inn.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s 2014 Pub Food Guide will be available for $5 withThe Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, November 23 (from participating newsagents, while stocks last). It will also be available in bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $9.99 from Tuesday, November 19.

 

The Sydney Morning Herald

Christchurch hit by 4.6 magnitude quake

6:50 AM Tuesday Nov 19, 2013

Photo / Thinkstock

A strong earthquake that hit Christchurch overnight has had its magnitude upgraded by GNS Science.

Initially it was believed the tremor, which hit just after 11.30pm, measured 4.4 in magnitude, but that has increased to 4.6.

It was also shallower than first believed, with GNS reporting it was 8km deep rather than 11km.

The quake was centred 10km south of the city.

 

The New Zealand Herald

Soccer: All Whites stay well away from the replay

By Daniel Richardson

5:30 AM Tuesday Nov 19, 2013
Shane Smeltz was upbeat about what lies ahead when he spoke after training yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Shane Smeltz was upbeat about what lies ahead when he spoke after training yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Playing in the awful 5-1 loss to Mexico was enough for the All Whites. They haven’t watched a replay as they build towards tomorrow’s second leg of their playoff in Wellington.

Last week’s hammering at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City didn’t make pretty viewing and All Whites midfielder Chris James, who scored New Zealand’s only goal with a late left-foot strike, said they did not need to relive it as part of their analysis for the return fixture.

“I don’t need to watch the match, I think there’s a lot of lads who probably think like that as well,” he said. “I think it was very clear for everyone to see what the problems were for us, so going over it and watching it wouldn’t change anything in our heads.

“We know exactly what’s gone wrong and we know how to put that right so that’s the intention of the lads at the moment, to do that in the next game. But also have that positivity that we need to go out and score as many goals as we can.”

Poor marking at set pieces, a lack of composure on the ball and the tendency to defend too deep were all key problems for the All Whites. Changing that in the space of a few days won’t be easy but the All Whites aren’t lacking in confidence.

James, alongside Jeremy Brockie, Shane Smeltz and young defender Storm Roux all fronted the media yesterday and spoke with a notably upbeat demeanour despite their dire situation.

In the past few days, many of the players have noted that “stranger things have happened” in football than the possibility of New Zealand winning 4-0 tomorrow.

***

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has settled on his starting line-up for tomorrow night’s match.

Herbert is set to revert to a straight back four with Storm Roux to debut at right back and Bill Tuiloma to play just his second international at left back.

Game one goal scorer Chris James earns a start alongside Michael McGlinchey in midfield, and with goals needed, Marco Rojas, Shane Smeltz, Kosta Barbarouses and Jeremy Brockie will all start.

(4-4-2): Glen Moss, Storm Roux, Andrew Durante, Tommy Smith (c), Bill Tuiloma, Marco Rojas, Michael McGlinchey, Chris James, Kosta Barbarouses, Jeremy Brockie, Shane Smeltz. – Newstalk Zb

 

The New Zealand Herald

The Accidental Vagina: Design for Qatar’s first 2022 World Cup stadium released

8:24 AM Tuesday Nov 19, 2013

The design for the stadium in Qatar.

Before now, the majority of discussions surrounding Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup have been surrounding the heat. There’s even been talk of switching the summer tournament to winter months.

However, now that a virtual rendering of the first new purpose-built stadium has been released, the debate is not about whether the fully air conditioned pitch will solve the heat problem.

Rather a number of commentators and tweeters have pointed to the fact that the proposed Al-Wakrah stadium looks very much like a vagina.

Yes, the conservative country has designed what many believe appears to be a giant ode to women’s private parts.

This is not what the architects intended. Instead, the design is supposed to resemble the sails of a dhow boat which is traditionally used for pearl fishing by Qataris.

Aecom, the firm that won the Al Wakrah contract along with Zaha Hadid Architects said: “Inspired by the dhow boat that carried generations of local fishermen and pearl divers, the stadium weaves together Qatar’s past with its progressive vision for the future.

“Sustainable materials and practices will be used throughout the stadium and the pitch and spectator stands will be cooled to a perfect temperature for football.”

Hassan al-Thawadi, the general secretary of Qatar’s 2022 committee said: “Al-Wakrah is the first of six stadiums already in the latter stages of the design process, our committee has issued 10 major tenders to the market encompassing project and design managers and stadium-operation consultants.”

The stadium, with a capacity of 40,000 people, would be completed by 2018, he said, but declined to comment on the cost.

As well as discussions surrounding the heat, Qatar as also been hit by allegations of migrant construction worker exploitation, as well as accusations of corruption over the voting procedure to win the bid, both of which officials have denied.

You can judge whether the stadium bears a closer resemblance to sails or a vagina’s labia by watching a video of the design here:

The New Zealand Herald

One Night in November: A written history of the All Whites’ win over Bahrain

10:40 AM Tuesday Nov 19, 2013

The All Whites might be facing a huge task in the second leg against Mexico on Wednesday night but if they’re looking for motivation they just need to look at the last time they played a playoff match in Wellington.

Four years ago last week the All Whites booked their spot in the 2010 FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Bahrain. Rory Fallon’s goal in the 45th minute and Mark Paston’s penalty save five minutes into the second half helped break a 28-year drought as New Zealand reached the biggest tournament in world sport for just the second time.

Herald soccer writers Steven Holloway, Daniel Richardson and Michael Brown talked to Chris Wood, Rory Fallon, Mark Paston, Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott and Ricki Herbert who helped make history on that day, along with others who watched from close by, to put into their words what it meant to reach the World Cup with a victory on one night in November.

Four years ago last week the All Whites booked their spot
in the 2010 FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Bahrain.

Rory Fallon’s goal in the 45th minute and Mark Paston’s penalty save five minutes into the second half helped break a 28-year drought as New Zealand reached the biggest tournament in world sport for just the second time.

The Herald talked to some of the key players who helped make history on that day, along with others who watched from close by, to put into their words what it meant to reach the World Cup with a victory on one night in November.

By Steven Holloway and Daniel Richardson

Enemy Soil

PLAYING THE AWAY LEG AND COMING HOME WITH A RESULT
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After winning the 2008 Oceania Nations Cup, the All Whites advanced to a home-and-away playoff against the fifth-placed team from Asia. At stake, a spot at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Bahrain emerged as Asia’s representative after beating Saudi Arabia in a playoff.

The All Whites hadn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1982 while Bahrain were aiming to make their first trip to the tournament.

On June 2, 2009 the draw was made with Bahrain named as the hosts of the first leg and New Zealand to host the second leg. The opening game was played in Manama on October 11, 2009.

When the All Whites heard they would face Bahrain

Ricki Herbert (All Whites coach)

We’d sent two people to the home-and-away fixtures between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, so we’d had a pretty good handle on what we were going to face and what we were going to do. I think that proved to be quite invaluable because, off the back of that, I changed my mind of how we were going to play, actually – hence the reason we went to a back three.

A Bahraini fan cheers for her team during the first leg in Manama.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fred de Jong (TV commentator)

When I first heard that I thought we had a chance. Bahrain are obviously not one of the big nations in the Asian region and I thought, ‘ohh, that’s not a bad draw for us’. I was pretty optimistic at that point.

Ben Sigmund (All Whites defender)

If I think back I didn’t really care who it was. Tim Brown and I sort of set out and said, ‘we are going to make the World Cup’ and that was just pretty much how we set it. You could have thrown anyone at us for any of those qualifiers and we would have gone, ‘just bring it on’. I think that belief was there from the word go. I look back and go, ‘s***, that was pretty powerful when you think about it like that’.

We didn’t really deserve to draw that game

– Rory Fallon

Rory Fallon (All Whites striker)

My first thoughts were about trying to get into the team, because I wasn’t even on the scene, I wasn’t eligible to play. Then the change of rules got me back into it and, as soon as I knew I was going to be part of the squad, I just had a feeling we would be going to the World Cup.

The trip to Bahrain, pre-match build-up

Herbert

We did all our preparations in Dubai. We spent five days in Dubai and then flew into Bahrain on the Tuesday night and played the next night. We wanted to limit the exposure, for want of a better word, to a country where you never know what you might or might not get.

Sigmund

The main thing that stands out for me is that it was very hot. I remember turning up to the stadium and there was security with machine guns and a massive crowd of red and it was like we were going to have to go to war here. It was like, ‘you’re going to have to pretty much die out there on the field because it’s just going to be chaos’.

Bahrain’s Husain Ali Ahmed (right) argues with New Zealand’s Simon Elliott in Manama.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Herbert

I think players really respond to a full stadium, passionate home fans. It’s great to be a part of that. It’s not something the team ever fears, so it was pretty busy and there was quite a strong representation of New Zealand people down in one corner – probably a couple of thousand people – so that side of things was pretty positive.

de Jong

I was commentating on the first leg from a studio in Auckland. Throughout that game I thought we were very, very, very lucky, especially when the guy (Bahrain striker Salman Isa) went round [Mark] Paston then hit the post. I was thinking, ‘man we are hanging on for dear life here’.

Mark Paston (All Whites goalkeeper)

I remember he’d got round me. He could have just rolled it into the net quite easily. He could have passed it across [to an open Jaycee John] but I remember he slightly sliced it onto the post, which was quite nice to see from our perspective … I remember [Isa] wasn’t very happy, looking over at him at the time he did it.

Sigmund

I look back and think, even though they had chances to score, there was some amazing stuff that was going on with Pasty saving it. There were some great blocks from me and Ryan [Nelsen] and there was just all sorts going on that you look back on and go, ‘s***, we won it so many times all over the place because there was so many good things happening’.

Elliott

Once we got that result in Bahrain, things really started to take off. Not just inside the team, but outside the team people started to believe.

Bahrain’s Mohamed Ahmed Hubail reacts after missing a chance at goal.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The result and the hope that came with it

Fallon

If we’re being honest, we didn’t really deserve to draw that game. They missed so many chances, they missed an open goal, they hit the post. It was roasting hot, it was packed and I just thought this was too good to be true. We were buzzing about the 0-0 but knew there was a lot more work to be done. After the game we weren’t celebrating that much. Everyone was buzzing and we knew we had done well but there were no celebrations because the job wasn’t fully done. It was a tired changing room.

Andrew Gourdie (3News football reporter)

I think the fact that I was the TV3 football reporter and I was on a nine-week holiday around Europe at the time when we were playing the first leg of a World Cup qualifier, I think that actually kind of sums up a few things. Initially, I don’t think anyone actually expected us to beat Bahrain so it wasn’t really on the media horizon.

Sigmund

I look back and Ryan said before the game in Bahrain, ‘look, if we can do well, when we bring it home it’ll make the crowd come, it’ll get everyone in behind us, it’ll just improve so many things’. Ryan always talks about the 12th man when we won that game [in Wellington] and the 12th man was the fans and the crowd and the energy they brought for us and he was so right. Getting that 0-0 result and obviously what happened in Wellington was awesome.

Home Advantage

LEADING UP TO THE BIG ONE
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Following the 0-0 draw in Manama, the All Whites had to wait more than a month for the home leg. The squad played for their club sides during the time between fixtures before regrouping six days beforehand.

During that time, tickets to Wellington’s Westpac Stadium sold out ensuring 36,500 fans, mostly in white, would deck out the arena.

Bahrain made the contentious decision to base themselves in Sydney instead of flying straight to New Zealand where they there was a much warmer climate than Wellington along with a different time zone. They left it until the Thursday before the game to arrive into a cold and blustery Wellington.

The weeks of hype leading up to the big one

Fallon

I was back in Plymouth trying to stay in the team and nick goals. That was in the forefront of my mind but also I had my eye on that game. I tried to stay away from trouble a little. Sometimes you can get some naughty tackles, especially on someone who is potentially going to a World Cup. It was going to be one of the biggest games of my career so I knew I had to look after myself.

Sigmund

It’s like you’re living two separate lives. You’ve got your club, and that’s very important because they pay your wages, and then you’ve got your New Zealand stuff and you’re potentially going to a World Cup. But you just park it and go, ‘right, we’ve done well in this game’ and you try to focus on one game at a time and that’s how we got through because, if you look too far ahead, it plays mind games.

The All Whites starting line-up ahead of the second leg in Wellington.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

de Jong

It was something that just built and built. A lot of it was around ticket sales. The game got sold out, which was really amazing for a football game in New Zealand. I was on the [New Zealand Football] board at that stage but was also doing the commentary.

Gourdie

I spent an entire week down in Wellington in the build-up, which was amazing in itself because in the space of a month we’ve gone from a game and a team not really being on the radar to an entire week when the All Whites and the World Cup qualifier dominated. It led stories on the sports news and everyone was into it. We covered everything. I remember speaking to Shane Smeltz, I think, who was one of the first players to arrive in Wellington for the match from overseas and we did a live interview with him as part of our lead sports story. I think it was on the Monday night.

Straight away we knew this was going to be one of the biggest games in 28 years of New Zealand football.

– Rory Fallon

Fallon

The night before the game we had a team talk where we all got in a circle and would just start chatting. Ryan would start and then anyone else who wanted to chip in would say something. It helped get us in the right state of mind. Ryan Nelsen was a great captain and everyone loved him, but we also had a number of other experienced senior players like Killy (Chris Killen) and Simon Elliott, who chipped in with a lot of good things. People would bring up personal stuff in their lives. They would say, ‘boys, I really need this’, whether it be for the money or whatever. Everyone was bringing up personal things they wanted from this game, to change their lives or careers. It was quite an inspirational thing with the boys being so honest with each other.

Elliott

Ryan and I were older, more experienced players and quite simply we knew it could be done. For us it was about making the younger guys aware that they were good enough. It was about instilling belief and showing that we had confidence in their ability to get it done.

The spirit that was instilled in that team, the understanding of each other’s abilities individually and as a group was an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.

The day before – the buzz around Wellington

Fallon

We were cocooned away from it all, especially me. I didn’t go into town. I don’t think any of us went into town. We just stayed away from it. A lot of the time I would get up in the morning and just isolate myself. I was praying a lot. I stayed away from all the media coverage. I put enough pressure on myself, nevermind having the whole of New Zealand putting pressure on us.

I remember going out for a walk on game-day in the morning and I ended up having to come home because there were people everywhere and everyone wanted to chat to you

– Ben Sigmund

de Jong

I went for a wander around the streets and there were people everywhere. Most of them were dressed in white. It was a nice day. I think I went out for a coffee in the morning and it was one of those times when you get that expectation of something building. There was this nervous energy around the city, which was really nice because it was so cutthroat.

Sigmund

I remember going out for a walk on game-day in the morning and I ended up having to come home because there were people everywhere and everyone wanted to chat to you. Media were also floating around. James McOnie [from the Crowd Goes Wild] was chasing me around. I remember having to do some video skit. He was videoing me in this playground playing on swings and going down slides and it was just a random day, but it was a cool day.

Game-day – How it felt warming up in that atmosphere, the team talk

Fallon

When we left for the stadium, there was a bit of a rush. There were people out the front of our hotel yelling and screaming and even when we got into the stadium there were people lining up and screaming at us. Straight away we knew this was going to be one of the biggest games in 28 years of New Zealand football.

de Jong

We did a piece by the tunnel where we had to come out of the commentary area and walk out through the crowd onto the field and walk around the field and then do a live cross, and as we walked around the difference with this crowd was that everyone was dressed up. There were people in boiler suits and white paraphernalia everywhere. White was the new black. That made it different. It made it special.

Everyone was really getting into it and it was a different sort of crowd in New Zealand. Normally we’re pretty quiet but this one was pretty raucous. There was just noise and people laughing and screaming and singing, 30 minutes before anything was even happening.

Andrew Gourdie

I remember the story we did the night of the game about the colour of the build-up and the hype and there was no shortage of material. We had people singing songs, you know, ’don’t go out in Bahrain’ to the tune of Dragon’s Rain, and ‘nothing rhymes with Ivan Vicelich’. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone sing that song before but it was magic, really, just the way people got on board. New Zealanders are great bandwagon jumpers, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen New Zealanders jump on a bandwagon quite like that.

Jason Pine (RadioSport commentator)

I remember looking out at this empty stadium and thinking, ‘this is going to be pretty special in a few hours’ and as it built towards kick-off. Wellingtonians are notoriously late arrivers to things – even the Phoenix crowds don’t turn up until about five minutes before kick-off – but at about quarter-past seven, with about 45 minutes still to go, the place would have been 80 per cent full. At that stage it had started to fill up. I think they wanted to soak up the atmosphere before kick-off.

All Whites’ skipper Ryan Nelsen leads the side out onto the Wellington pitch.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

Elliott

It was a little different for me because I was injured. So for me it was more about things around the game, not so much the game itself.

Fallon

Everyone knew how big this game was. In my mind I was determined for us not to be nearly men, getting close then falling at the last hurdle. I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t win that game, so there was a lot of pressure. It was quite tense before we went out to warm up because it was really packed by that time. I remember seeing the ‘82 World Cup team walking around the pitch and I saw my dad there. For me, that’s always been a shadow in my family. I grew up with the ‘82 fever and 28 years after they went to the World Cup they were all still revered as idols to the fans and I thought, ‘man, we just have to get to this World Cup’. I was proud to see my dad as well. When I saw him, I was just really thankful. That World Cup really made my dad. It helped the family and I was just thankful that he got the opportunity. Now I had it.

Chris Wood (All Whites striker)

Ryan was a big influence on game day and he commanded the dressing room really well. He knew how to get some players revved up and how to relax others. He knew the individuals really well. We also had Rory’s music on in the dressing room, and his choice of playlist isn’t always the best, but he did a good job on the day of getting our team’s songs in.

Ryan Nelsen (All Whites defender/captain)

I can’t really remember what I said. A lot of that stuff I do is the feeling of what I think the guys need to hear at the time. It’s not what they want to hear, it’s what they need to hear. A lot of it is getting a feeling. If I feel there are any insecurities or a vibe, I try to address it and smash it out of the ballpark. I will lie like hell and tell all sorts of bullshit to make a person feel like they can go out and conquer the world. Sometimes it’s just getting a feel for what I think people want to hear. I used to put myself down a lot and make up stories that the opposition were useless and I would rather have you guys on the team.

Herbert

We went into a standard sort of huddle and I think there was just really short, sharp stuff – this is a reflection on where you’re at, this is what sits in front of you for 90 minutes of your life. The defining factor is sitting here right in front of you guys and you can actually change a nation tonight and I kind of sensed through the day there was just a strong feeling within the group.

Paston

There wasn’t a lot to be said. I think we had a couple of meetings the day before. By then everybody knew what it was about. It was just going out and doing your job and, if you did everything you could do and the result didn’t turn out, so be it. That’s the way it was approached.

Nelsen

In the end, what you do is put yourself in a position to try to win a football game and, generally, the physical and tactical stuff is taken care of. Really, it’s just the mental side. You just try to say the right things to push them in the right direction. Whether that works or not is up to the fate of the gods. I think the New Zealand guys are the easiest to work with because most New Zealand people have everything – they are hard-working and honest – but there’s sometimes a bit of self-doubt because they haven’t had international exposure that other people have. They just don’t know and that can be insecurity.

Sigmund

I remember being out in the tunnel in Wellington just lining up before going out and it was a freezing day in Wellington – that’s what we wanted – and they were all in gloves, beanies, all sorts of stuff. And Rory Fallon, big Rory Fallon, I love him to bits, he was just like, ‘these guys aren’t up for it, these guys, they’re pussies’. He was really in their faces just saying, ‘f***, if you’re going to come here, you’re going to have to really have a good crack at us’. That was powerful for me and everyone felt that and it was a good bit of energy.

Pine

Once eight o’clock rolled around, the place was absolutely full to the brim and the teams came out with the Fifa flags and then the anthems were played. It was a pretty special place to be. It was an amazing sight seeing everybody in white.

Michael Brown (Herald soccer writer)

It was the most amazing sporting experience I’ve had in New Zealand. It was an incredible night and there was so much emotion. It really crystalised for me just before kick-off, when the Bahrain media contingent walked into the press box in their Bahrain-issued tracksuits. And they burst into song when the national anthem started – it was a really hearty rendition, they were really emotional about it. It suddenly became an us-against-them mentality. I’m quite dispassionate when I’m working and watching sport but, as soon as that happened, it was like, ‘if that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be’.

Herbert

When I saw the players walking onto the pitch, I thought, ‘we are going to be hard to beat, we are absolutely going to be hard to beat’.

The Goal

THE STRIKE THAT SENT ALL WHITES TO SOUTH AFRICA
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The All Whites began nervously in front of the big crowd as Bahrain attacked from the outset but New Zealand soon settled into the match and carved out a handful of good chances. Chris Killen rattled the crossbar with a left-footed volley that had the goalkeeper beaten, Leo Bertos went agonisingly close with a curling free-kick from just outside the box and Rory Fallon had a close-range header brilliantly saved by Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohamed Jaffar. It was a forerunner of what was to come.

Just before halftime, Ben Sigmund made a run down the right-hand side before attempting a cross, which was headed clear for a corner. Bertos lined up the corner with six white shirts to aim at. Fallon jumped clear to head the All Whites into a 1-0 lead.

Fallon

I knew there would be only one or two chances in the game because they were shut up quite tightly. And I recall having an early chance before the goal – a half-chance that I had to stretch for – and I thought, ‘surely that’s not my chance’. I clearly remember praying to God, saying, ‘God give me one more chance and I’ll finish it. Give me one more opportunity’. Then five minutes later we got the corner.

Rory Fallon heads the All Whites into the lead.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

Sigmund

[Sigmund goes up to head the ball but it goes over his head for Fallon to connect with] I’ve probably spoken about it before. I have nightmares about it because I actually think sometimes, ‘imagine if I went up’ – because I didn’t actually know Rory was behind me coming in so I potentially could have gone up and flicked it or missed it. But I didn’t, and he came over and just banged it home.

Fallon

It was just euphoria. When you score a goal, it’s great and there are not many things that come close to scoring an important goal. I’ve scored loads of important goals, but that one was just something out of this world that I will never forget.

Sigmund

I still remember it. I heard the thud of the ball hitting his head and then I tried to chase him – and he’s a slow bastard – but he outsprinted me because he was so happy.

Fallon

We just needed that one goal. That’s all we needed and the whole place erupted. It was pandemonium and the whole place went wild. When I finished celebrating, in my mind I was just like, ‘woah, this is really happening’.

I’ve scored loads of important goals, but that one was just something out of this world that I will never forget

– Rory Fallon

Nelsen

I can remember getting pulled [by a defender]. I was about to run in and the guy who was marking me just grabbed my shirt. I kind of turned to him to push him out of the way. I was so mad. I turned back and Rory had scored. I ended up looking at the guy and saying a nice pleasantry to him as I ran off.

Gourdie

Personally, I’ve never heard a roar like that at a sporting event in New Zealand and I would be surprised if I ever will again. I think there was just this feeling of, ‘dare to believe or dream’ that fell over the crowd.

de Jong

We were jumping up and down in the commentary area. The commentary was weird because you are watching the game but you’re also working and trying to convey what was going on.

The All Whites celebrate a 1-0 lead in Wellington.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

Fallon

It was a long time in the making. People used to think I was mad when my dad took me training before school every day, but all those years of hard work paid off with that goal. It was a massive relief, because I didn’t want to waste all those years of training, all that hard work with nothing to show for it. During my club career I hadn’t won anything, never achieved that mark I wanted, but this is something I will always remember.

Nelsen

I remember going, ‘it’s a goal’ and then, ‘right, this is going to be the longest 50 minutes of my life but it’s time to really get going now’.

The Save

THE MOST IMPORTANT SAVE IN ALL WHITES HISTORY
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Five minutes into the second half, Bahrain were awarded a penalty after All Whites defender Tony Lochhead brought down Abdulla Omar in the box. With a goal, Bahrain would have been in the box seat due to the away goals rule. Sayed Adnan stepped up to take the crucial attempt for Bahrain.

Fallon

In the changing rooms, a lot of the senior players were saying, ‘boys, the first 10 or 20 minutes of this half are going to make or break this game. So then the first five minutes in the penalty happened, and I just thought, ‘no way, this can’t be true’.

Tony Lochhead (As told to the Bay of Plenty Times)

I thought I had cost us a trip to the World Cup. I thought I’d done enough to get there but [Omar] just managed to get in front of me. I didn’t really touch him that much, but he went down pretty easily and the ref pointed to the spot.

Pine

What I remember most when the penalty was awarded was the Bahrain players celebrating and kissing the ground and hugging as if they’d won the game. They’d only won a penalty and they hadn’t scored it yet and they were all just very excited about the fact they’d got this penalty.

Fallon

I think everyone in the team’s heart dropped. I don’t usually pray for people to miss, but at that time I was on the halfway line praying for that guy to miss. This was my dream since childhood and I just said, ‘God, please stop that goal’. I think everyone in that stadium was praying… well at least everyone was wishing that ball out of that goal.

I thought I had cost us a trip to the World Cup – Tony Lochhead

Sigmund

There were all sorts of rumours that people had been watching them take penalties so Ricki [Herbert] was trying to get some information across to them that they were going to go this way but Pasty didn’t really listen to any of it and he just kind of did his own thing.

I always remember Leo Bertos was abusing Tony Lochhead for giving this penalty away and usually it’s me abusing someone and I was like, ‘Leo, man’. I had so much belief that, if they scored, we were going to go down there and score again. I was like, ‘just bring it on, whatever you throw at us, we are going to beat you’. Everyone had that attitude and that’s what got us over the line.

Pine

Afterwards I found out the New Zealand coaching staff were trying to get a message out to Mark Paston to let him know that [Mohamed] Adnan, the guy who was taking the penalty, which way he normally went with his penalties. They somehow managed to find out which way some of the Bahrain players went with their penalties because they might have had to face a penalty shootout later on. But it was so loud and then message got mixed up and Mark Paston didn’t actually receive the message at all. If he had, he probably would have ignored it, knowing him.

Herbert

There were lots of signals and, whether Mark caught a glimpse of it or not, I’m not 100 per cent sure.

Paston

I wasn’t paying any attention to that. I understand they were trying to do that but I was in my little world so it was a good job I went that way. I guessed. I’d like to say I did all that but, nah, I guessed. There was no science to it.

I guessed. There was no science to it – Mark Paston

Herbert

At the end of the day, he got it spot on. But that was a replication of what he’d been doing. He’d had an incredible World Cup build-up. We wouldn’t be talking about this if it wasn’t for him, really.

Lochhead

It was such a nerve-racking moment but Pasty has come up with an unbelievable save and he’s saved my skin, big time. It wasn’t a good feeling, but when he saved it I was celebrating as if I had scored myself.

de Jong

We were more excited when Paston saved the penalty. If they had scored, we would have had to score again and that was always going to be difficult. That save got the whole stadium so behind the All Whites. From that point it was like a waterfall heading in one direction. I think that was the key moment, even more so than the goal.

Gourdie

When Paston saved that penalty, it was a different sort of feeling I think that came over everyone. It’s like, ‘I think we are going to do this, it’s almost written that this is going to happen’. Fallon’s goal gave the crowd hope, Paston’s save gave them belief. He wrote himself into history with that. No matter what else he does in his career – he’s done a bit and it’s over now – but he’ll be remembered for that save forever.

Pine

I think that moment was the loudest noise I have ever heard at Westpac Stadium; louder than the goal, I reckon. It was just so unexpected. You don’t really expect the goalkeeper to make a save off a penalty but the fact he did and there was just this explosion of relief and joy and almost belief that it was going to be New Zealand’s night.

Paston

I look back at it now and I didn’t actually react that much and I think it was the same as when we scored our goal. It was something that happened in the game. There were still 40-odd minutes to go so it was, ‘get on with the game and try not concede a goal’. So it was just get on with things, actually.

Making History

AFTER THE FINAL WHISTLE

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The nerves were palpable as Bahrain attacked in waves. Nelsen was immense as he snuffed out any chance while the rest, led by the terrier-like Tim Brown, ran themselves into the ground. Shane Smeltz narrowly missed scoring a valuable second which would have given his side breathing space and Fallon was a constant menace. But the final 20 minutes were largely about protecting their lead, not conceding and taking their place at the World Cup. Finally Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda called time. Fulltime. The All Whites were going to South Africa.

Paston

They pumped a ball into the box, they headed it and I caught it and I’ve run out and the referee’s walked over to me and started saying, ‘give me the ball’. It was the time in the game when I didn’t want to give anyone the ball, it was like gold at that moment to have in my hands, so I was a little reluctant to give it to him. Then I sort of realised what he was doing so I obviously gave it to him and he blew his whistle. It was a moment, which was quite nice.

Chris Wood lifts his arms after the final whistle sounded.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

Elliott

We were all on our feet trying to do what we could without really being a part of it. When that whistle went it was a great moment. I remember trying to hobble over to where everyone was to catch up and join in the celebrations.

Nelsen

I can remember running with Ivan when they blew the whistle and his back leg tripped my leg and I remember falling on my face. You go into such an exhilaration. You are screaming and yelling and screaming gibberish. It’s pure ecstasy, relief, delight. It’s indescribable.

Fallon

I fell on my knees and thanked God for getting me to a World Cup. That’s the first thing I did. Then I remember David Mulligan coming over. Mully used to train with me in the mornings at MAGS and he jumped on me. We just looked at each other and we were buzzing. We were just screaming in each other’s faces, going, ‘come onnnn’. Then we ran over to the lads.

Paston

It was unbelievable. I don’t think anything else could describe it and it was almost a blur with so much going on and it was just an incredible night, really.

Herbert

I couldn’t really tell you what went through my head. It was just so many things but I think relief. That would be the first thing.

Rory Fallon celebrates after fulltime.

MARK MITCHELL/NZ HERALD

Sigmund

I just looked for anyone to hug, to be honest. I think everyone was just so exhausted and I think just the emotion of letting that all out to say it’s all over and you’ve qualified for the World Cup, it was like the best moment of your life, especially in your professional time.

de Jong

While Andrew (Dewhurst) was wrapping it all up, I was jumping around. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously we hadn’t been there for a while and it was just mayhem. Mayhem around the stadium, mayhem in the commentary area. Harry (Ngata) was on the field swearing in the mic and Ricki was swearing and, through that period, you’re working and you have to get comments and talk and try to be professional, but inside it was phenomenal. I couldn’t stop smiling for three days.

Gourdie

I managed to speak to Ivan Vicelich. He was the first interview I got on the field and it was cool speaking to Ivan, I’ve got to say, because he was the first person who came to me. It wasn’t until afterwards that I thought, ‘man, Ivan’s a guy who has been incredible for that All Whites unit’. He came out of retirement, that’s what people forget. He retired and came out of retirement for the Confederations Cup [in 2009] and then he was on the field to help the team get to a World Cup. What’s actually happened to that guy is crazy and you know all that meant a lot to him; not necessarily what he had just achieved but what he had helped the team just achieve, because he’s the ultimate team guy. The next guy who came to me was Fallon. I couldn’t have hoped for better. That interview was memorable because I got in one question and he answered it and then the second question I cut short because, from memory, it was Chris Wood and Chris Killen and maybe Andy Barron who got him and I in a Powerade bath mid-question. I left Westpac Stadium absolutely soaked from head to toe that night and that’s probably my enduring memory of the night, being soaked in Gatorade when I still probably had a full night of work ahead of me.

Fallon

After the game we did a lap of honour, then Killy and Woodsy got the bucket of Powerade and dumped it on me to celebrate while I was getting interviewed. Then we went into the changing rooms and the music was pumping. I remember the song that was being played, Black Eyed Peas’ I Got A Feeling, and that was constantly on repeat. As soon as I got in there it really started going off. We got the champagne out, we were jumping around hugging each other and kissing each other – not in a gay way – in a manly way. Just a euphoric feeling of, ‘we’ve done it’.

Elliott

For a few of us older guys it was about savoring the moment. We knew we were close to the end of our careers and we knew how far the team had come from previous years and World Cup cycles.

Every time I have been part of a winning group there hasn’t been a wild craziness, more of an intense deep feeling of satisfaction. You set out to do something and you achieve it. And that was the feeling that was present through the night. Despite all the pitfalls and all the ups and downs we found a way to reach our objective; to go to the World Cup.

The night out afterwards

Fallon

Then we got on the bus. The bus was the craziest ride I have ever taken in my life. The ride from the stadium to the hotel should take us only 10 minutes. It took us over 30. Everyone was stopping the bus. There were hundreds of people on the street stopping the bus at every opportunity. People were streaming out of the bars jumping in front of the bus, banging on the windows. There was one lad who must have been running for at least 20 minutes alongside the bus and everyone was just watching him. Either he was a fit boy or extremely drunk.

The realisation, after all the euphoria had stopped, of what I had done started to sink in. The game was being replayed over and over on the TV and what I had achieved was starting to sink in.

As soon as we got changed, we all met up at a private bar and that’s where I met up with my mum and dad. When I got to the bar my dad was there and he was absolutely steaming. He was outside, drinking whisky out of the glass with a massive cigar celebrating. And the first thing I remember was walking into the bar and seeing him. He was so drunk I don’t think he even recognised me until I was like, ‘Dad, hey it’s me’. But that moment when I saw him and we first hugged is something that will be with me ‘til the day I die. We both realised what that meant.

Sigmund

My grandad was about 84 at the time. He was out ‘til five in the morning with us and my old man lasted the whole night.

Fallon

My dad led the team in ’82. Then another Fallon – the young lad that he’s coached from a young age – every day before school, training on rugby pitches, all the adversity, it all amalgamated into that one big hug. We realised what we had achieved. He just kept saying, ‘the f***ing 90 million dollar header’ followed by, ‘boom, back of the net’. He had me in stitches because he just kept on saying that the whole night. I’ll never forget that – him, his cigar and his whiskey saying, ‘boom, back of the net’, in his Yorkshire accent.

Everyone was having a great time and drinking and stuff like that but I recall not drinking. We all celebrated with a glass of champagne together, but that was me done. I hit a massive brick wall. I was just so tired. But it was one of the best night’s sleep I ever had in my life.

de Jong

It was 4am in the morning and I was walking to McDonald’s, and I saw a couple of board members walking the other way. It was a good night.

Herbert

We were out and it was quite a late night, actually. I think I can remember walking home with the manager at about seven in the morning and it’s one of those night where you kind of have a few drinks but you’re talking and everyone’s really excited and before you know it it’s that late and you’re walking home. I was good as gold. I was just sober as. In the reception at the hotel the game was coming back on, they were showing a replay of it so we sat down and had a cup of tea and watched it.

Ben Sigmund

We woke up the next day and had a massive barbecue and my dairy owner from the Paparangi dairy, he supplied all the food for the breakfast, and it was just a moment that will be tough to repeat. We’ll look forward to hopefully doing it again this time.

Three weeks on

Nelsen

It was a special time. In terms of the whole atmosphere, it was incredible. I was really surprised that a New Zealand football crowd could create such a good atmosphere. I didn’t expect anything like that. In terms of the whole special night, it was up there and I will always remember it.

But I think the World Cup surpassed that. As soon as it happened, it was awesome but my main feeling was, and no disrespect to the 1982 team but I think they were just happy to be there because they were amateurs against pros, we have to do something [special at the World Cup]. I think the World Cup was the most stressful but satisfying and enjoyable time of my career.

Sigmund

You’re just on cloud nine. Our lives changed hugely straight after that game – sponsorship, recognition, from the community, from the public. There’s all sorts of stuff that changed for us and football got put on a pedestal a bit more. For me, that was really nice to be able to say you were a part of that and helped it grow and it’s still growing now. Hopefully if we can do it again it’ll get another boost and keep going.

Wood

I don’t think we all knew how big it could be if we actually qualified. We saw how big everyone thought it was going to be, what we could achieve if we won what we could do and how we could be remembered. Everyone talks about the ‘82 team and how great they are, and we knew that if we could do it, everyone would remember us as well.

Paston

I think once we’d qualified the talk was now, ‘who is going to be drawn in our group?’ and ‘is it Brazil, is it England?’. All the players went back to their clubs and I went on and decided to break my leg, so it’s weird how things work. If I was going to break my leg, it was a perfect time to do it, I suppose, a week after the World Cup qualifier. It gave me enough time to recover for the World Cup; so, perfect timing.

Epilogue

Paston’s leg would heal and he would once again play a vital role for the All Whites as they went through pool play at the 2010 World Cup unbeaten following draws with Slovakia (1-1), defending champions Italy (1-1) and Paraguay (0-0). It wasn’t enough to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament but their 1-1 draw against Italy goes down as one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history. The side went on to win the Team of the Year prize along with the supreme award at the Halberg Awards while Herbert was named Coach of the Year.

Credits

Additional interviews by Michael Brown and Kris Shannon.

Editing by Michael Brown and Cameron McMillan.

Concept and design by Cameron McMillan and Claudia Ruiz.

Development by Harkanwal Singh and Cameron Wright.

Luis Montes y el último escalón para el Tri

Luis Montes y el último escalón para el Tri

© AFP

La selección mexicana está a un paso de la resurrección. El equipo azteca, que estuvo apenas a dos minutos de quedarse eliminado de la fase de clasificación rumbo a Brasil 2014, llega a Wellington para el segundo partido de la repesca ante Nueva Zelanda con una amplia ventaja, luego del 5-1 conseguida la semana pasada en el mítico Estadio Azteca.

Pero el renacimiento no es sólo colectivo. Dentro de este Tri hay muchas historias de redención individual, que han dotado de carácter a un equipo que lo necesitaba urgentemente. Entre ellas sobresale la de Luis Montes, uno de los jugadores fundamentales del triunfo en la ida, alguien quien apenas un par de años estaba completamente fuera del radar del fútbol mexicano, olvidado en la Liga de Ascenso. Con una sonrisa en los labios, el jugador del León habló en exclusiva para FIFA.comsobre su inusual carrera y lo que le espera al Tri en tierras oceánicas.

Una trayectoria inesperada
Al ver a Montes recorrer de arriba abajo la media cancha de la selección mexicana, uno no podría imaginarse el largo camino que ha debido recorrer para ganarse el reconocimiento del público. Por mucho tiempo, el vivaz mediocampista parecía uno de esos futbolistas destinados al anonimato. Incapaz de consolidarse durante cinco años en el Pachuca, su equipo formador, fue transferido al León de la Liga de Ascenso en la temporada Clausura 2011.

Y entonces, sucedió lo inesperado. Con Montes como figura principal, su equipo consiguió el ascenso, y al año siguiente disputó las semifinales de la Primera División, lo que le valió el llamado al Tri. Hoy, con 27 años, en el clímax de su carrera, mantiene la cabeza bien firme sobre los hombros. “No ha sido fácil, la verdad. Llega un momento en el que dudas, que no sabes si vas a poder lograrlo. Ahora, afortunadamente se me han dado las cosas, pero no puedo olvidar los obstáculos y esa es mi motivación para seguir adelante”, afirma con confianza.

Obstáculos, como los que ha tenido que pasar México para ponerse en la antesala de la Copa Mundial de la FIFA. Tras un año lleno de contratiempos, de la mano del técnico Miguel Herrera –el cuarto en el proceso clasificatorio-, parece estar en la antesala de conseguir el ansiado boleto a Brasil. Para Montes, es precisamente el nuevo entrenador el que ha conseguido devolver al equipo la estabilidad que tanto necesitaba.

“La verdad es que nos sentimos muy bien con Miguel. Nos tiene una confianza enorme y creo que ése ha sido el secreto”, revela el jugador nacido en Ciudad Juárez, “Nos ha dado conceptos muy claros, que nos han permitido recuperar el buen juego. El equipo presiona muy bien, nunca deja de correr y tiene mucha llegada. Sin él no sé si estaríamos en esta posición favorable”.

El último escalón rumbo a Brasil
El mediocampista, apodado “Chapo”, disputó 59 minutos en el primer duelo ante los neozelandeses. Desde esa perspectiva, analiza lo sucedido el miércoles pasado y cómo eso puede afectar el encuentro del martes. “Tal vez desde afuera se ve distinto, pero fue complicado vencer a Nueva Zelanda. Sabemos, además, que ellos van a salir de otra manera en su casa, con su público. Es un equipo muy fuerte físicamente, y tratará de desgastarnos en el partido de vuelta”.

De acuerdo con lo visto en los entrenamientos, Montes se perfila como titular en Wellington, en lo que sería apenas su sexto partido internacional, un dato que sorprende al ver su confianza en el terreno de juego. Evidentemente, el encuentro en Wellington será el más importante de su carrera y, por ello, no quiere dejar nada a la improvisación. “Va a ser fundamental que estemos tranquilos, que manejemos bien la pelota. Sabemos que ellos van a salir a presionarnos, porque están obligados a hacerlo, así que hay que mantener la cabeza fría”, considera.

Sin embargo, eso no significa que México tratará de cuidar la ventaja, por el contrario. “Nosotros vamos a proponer el partido, a tratar de ganarlo. Necesitamos otro gol que nos deje tranquilos para conseguir el pase. Lo peor que podríamos hacer es dar por muerta esta eliminatoria, falta el partido de vuelta, y lo vamos a disputar con todo profesionalismo y responsabilidad”, afirma con sensatez.

Y es precisamente el tener que sobreponerse a los obstáculos, lo que le ha dado la madurez que muestra dentro y fuera del terreno de juego. Por ello finaliza con palabras que destilan mesura. “No estamos en Brasil, y no lo estaremos hasta que el árbitro silbe el final con el marcador a nuestro favor. Sólo entonces podremos levantar los brazos”.

 

FIFA.com

Cuatro equipos en busca de una gesta

Cuatro equipos en busca de una gesta

© AFP

Los cuatro partidos de vuelta de la repesca de la competición preliminar de la zona europea para la Copa Mundial de la FIFA 2014™ tienen un denominador común: la necesidad de una gesta para los equipos locales. Así, Francia y Rumania, que cayeron por una diferencia de dos goles en la ida, tendrán que convertirse en las primeras selecciones en la historia de la repesca que remontan esa desventaja. Islandia, por su parte, sueña con representar a sus 320.000 habitantes por primera vez en una fase final mundialista.

Por último, las proezas son prácticamente la especialidad de dos astros como el sueco Zlatan Ibrahimovic y el portugués Cristiano Ronaldo, aunque únicamente uno de ellos viajará a Brasil.

En caso de empate entre dos conjuntos al término del tiempo reglamentado, los goles marcados fuera de casa inclinarán la balanza. Si aun así se mantiene la igualdad, se jugará una prórroga con dos partes de quince minutos, a la que seguiría eventualmente una tanda de penales.

El partido destacado
Francia-Ucrania (2-0 en la ida), Estadio de Francia (París), 19 de noviembre de 2013, 21:00 (hora local)

Veinte años después de la derrota ante Bulgaria (1-2) que les cerró las puertas de la edición de EEUU 1994, los Bleus vuelven a estar entre la espada y la pared, antes de organizar la Eurocopa 2016. “Hay que tener fe, y mucha, para darle la vuelta al marcador. Todo el mundo tendrá que estar unido”, repite sin cesar Didier Deschamps. ¿Hay que revolucionarlo todo, sustituir a los futbolistas y el sistema de juego, o simplemente cambiar la mentalidad? Esas son las principales preguntas que surgen tras un encuentro de ida en el que una Ucrania agresiva y voluntariosa doblegó a los franceses, cuyo 4-2-3-1 parece haber quedado de repente desfasado. Los ucranianos neutralizaron perfectamente a Franck Ribéry, y Paul Pogba, que brilla en el ataque del Juventus, apenas encontró espacios arriba. En la ida, el cuadro local hizo gala de la solidez de su defensa, que solamente ha recibido cuatro goles en toda la competición preliminar. Sin embargo, Mikhail Fomenko deberá reconstruir a la mitad de esa retaguardia, por las sanciones del lateral Artem Fedetskyy y el central Oleksandr Kucher. El margen de maniobra es escaso para Francia, que tendrá que atacar y al mismo tiempo evitar exponerse a los contragolpes de Yevhen Konoplyanka y Andriy Yarmolenko.

La previa 
Suecia-Portugal (1-0 en la ida)

Los portugueses dominaron el duelo de ida en ocasiones y posesión del esférico, aunque fallaron en la definición. Cristiano Ronaldo fue el primero en lamentarlo. También lo reconoció el seleccionador luso, Paulo Bento: “Es evidente que nos faltó eficacia en las situaciones que logramos crear”. Sueciaofreció durante muchos minutos la imagen de una formación perfectamente organizada, bien ubicada y peligrosa en el contraataque, antes de hacer agua ante el ímpetu de CR7. Ahora, en su campo, los escandinavos están obligados a desplegar un fútbol más ofensivo, o al menos proporcionar más balones que pueda aprovechar un Zlatan Ibrahimovic que se siente como pez en el agua en el Friends Arena, donde ha firmado ya diez goles desde su inauguración, hace un año. Y además, en Estocolmo se considera que una desventaja de un solo tanto es perfectamente asequible para un equipo que remontó cuatro en media parte en Alemania (4-4 en Berlín, en octubre de 2012).

Rumania-Grecia (3-1 en la ida)
Rumania afronta un choque complicado, tras ser incapaz de resistir ante su adversario en Grecia, donde echó de menos al zaguero del Tottenham Vlad Chiriches. Victor Piturca está ahora obligado a asumir más riesgos en ataque, procurando no desguarnecer a la vez demasiado su defensa. El técnico sabe que es posible conseguirlo, gracias al gol anotado a domicilio, y no deja de hablar a sus discípulos de la victoria de Bosnia-Herzegovina sobre Grecia (3-1) en la liguilla. Pero el combinado heleno, especialista en conservar un resultado, tiene más experiencia, y buscará con tranquilidad su tercera participación en un Mundial.

Islandia-Croacia (0-0)
Desde el comienzo de la competición preliminar, Croacia no consigue carburar en ataque, a pesar de contar con individualidades de primera categoría. Su balance de doce goles en la fase de grupos explica las dificultades que encontró el viernes 15 de noviembre ante una Islandia valiente y perfectamente organizada, que no bajó los brazos en ningún momento, ni siquiera con un hombre menos. En su estreno como seleccionador, Niko Kovac no pudo más que constatar la parsimonia en el primer tiempo de su equipo, que no aprovecharía luego su superioridad numérica. Figuras de la talla de Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Pranjic o Eduardo no llegaron a asentarse sobre el campo, incluso con los pases de calidad que les suministró Luka Modric. En cambio, los islandeses, que tienen la posibilidad de clasificarse para el primer gran torneo internacional de su historia, exhibieron un asombroso espíritu de equipo. “El rendimiento defensivo en el segundo periodo fue absolutamente fabuloso. Un empate a ceros en estas circunstancias es como una victoria”, analizó Lars Lagerbäck, seleccionador de Islandia, segunda del Grupo E, detrás de Suiza.

Jugador a seguir
Hannes Thór Halldórsson
, de 29 años y 1,93 m de estatura, guardameta de la selección islandesa desde el 6 de septiembre de 2011, se lució en la ida frente a Croacia, al protagonizar varias intervenciones decisivas. El arquero del KR Reikiavik, elegido mejor futbolista de Islandia por sus compañeros en 2011, ha realizado toda su carrera en su país, excepto una pequeña cesión de un partido en Noruega. Se encuentra muy cómodo en las jugadas aéreas y seguro al atrapar el balón, y solo recibió 15 goles en los diez encuentros de la fase de grupos. De sus guantes depende gran parte del destino de Islandia.

Números que hablan
60%:
 el porcentaje de partidos en los que Ucrania no recibió goles en sus 20 últimos compromisos. Además, su última derrota por una diferencia de al menos tres tantos se remonta al 6 de septiembre de 2011, en un amistoso en la República Checa (4-0).

La frase
“Cuando recuperábamos la pelota, no teníamos la calidad que nos hacía falta. Aunque tenemos que utilizar más a Zlatan, hay que conseguir hilvanar pases. Hubo demasiados balones largos”. Erik Hamren, seleccionador de Suecia.

¡Que se oiga tu voz!
¿Pueden remontar Francia y Rumania una desventaja de dos goles?

 

FIFA.com