WELLINGTON - NEW Zealand's national sport rugby union was wiped from the headlines Sunday as the nation revelled in its football minnows the All Whites qualifying for the World Cup for only the second time.
'One of the most momentous results in New Zealand sports history' the Sunday Star-Times blared on its front page, the morning after the All Whites secured their berth in next year's World Cup with a 1-0 win over Bahrain.
Rory Fallon was hailed as a national hero for what proved to be a match-winning header just before half-time. The goal was followed by an equally vital performance by goalkeeper Mark Paston who correctly dived right to save a penalty five minutes after the break.
'This is the chance we have been waiting more than 20 years for,' said Prime Minister John Key who led the national celebrations with a congratulatory message from Singapore, where he was attending a regional summit.
'It is a credit to (captain) Ryan Nelsen and his team that tonight they have rekindled New Zealand's passion for 'The beautiful game'. 'Enjoy your well-deserved victory - we are all celebrating with you.'
The All Blacks rugby team, who beat Italy 20-6 in Milan just hours after the All Whites World Cup qualifier, found themselves relegated down the priority order of radio news bulletins as football took centre stage. Fallon's goal was rated the 'header from heaven' while Paston pulled off the 'greatest save in New Zealand football history", according to reports.