Wellington, June 16 (DPA) A 21-year-old Maori who was picked for New Zealand's team at the World Cup while playing on the other side of the world was the toast of the nation Wednesday, after scoring an injury-time goal to earn a draw against Slovakia.
Coach Ricki Herbert included Auckland-born Winston Reid, who had lived in Denmark since moving from the country of his birth at the age of 11, in the squad sight unseen, relying on the reputation he had acquired in Europe.
Reid, who played for Denmark in under-18, under-20 and under-21 national sides, decided to come home after a FIFA rule change allowing young players to choose where to make their full international debuts.
He returned to New Zealand and met his team-mates for the first time just over a month ago, making his debut four days after arriving in a friendly against Australia.
He became a national hero in his first full international, his goal earning New Zealand their first-ever point in a World Cup final. New Zealand lost all three first round matches in their only other appearance at the finals in 1982.
"Winston Reid has written himself into New Zealand sporting history," Coen Lammers wrote on the Stuff news website.
"A great day for New Zealand sport and a moment to live on in history," Chris Rattue wrote in the New Zealand Herald. "I have seen many great New Zealand sporting moments over the years but nothing to match this."
With New Zealand rank outsiders of the finals, captain Ryan Nelsen said the 1-1 draw with Slovakia, who are 44 places ahead in the FIFA rankings, showed the All Whites were not at the World Cup "to make up the numbers".
"It's exciting," he said. "We wanted to go into the next game with plenty to play for."
That game, against reigning champions Italy on Sunday, will be even more of a challenge.