Group F Preview – Can New Zealand Steal Points?
Manager – Ricki Herbert
FIFA Ranking – 78
Schedule – Slovakia (6/15), Italy (6/20), Paraguay (6/24)
Qualification – First place, Oceania
Big name player- Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers)
Last time they qualified for WC – 1982
The colorfully named “All Whites” could conceivably be the worst team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Consider the following:
- Two members of their squad are not signed by a professional club
- Their best international result ever was a 0-0 draw against Iraq in the 2009 Confederations Cup, the first ever point in a FIFA tournament.
- They lost to Fiji in World Cup qualifying
If you are looking for an underdog club to root for, this is the club to watch. New Zealand made the World Cup after fairly easily placing first in the Oceania Qualification group but to qualify they still had to win 1-0 in aggregate over Asia’s fifth place squad Bahrain. Oceania does not include Australia, but does include New Caledonia, Fiji, and Vanuatu, which are not exactly soccer powerhouses. In New Zealand itself, soccer comes in behind rugby and cricket in popularity, and their top club (Wellington Phoenix) plays in the Australian A-league.
New Zealand’s record in international tournaments is quite discouraging. Their first and only trip to the Word Cup before this year was in 1982, where they failed to advance beyond the group stage and scored only two goals in three defeats. They have not faired much better in the Confederations Cup, losing eight matches with the one draw against Iraq and having a -22 goal difference.
The man tasked with guiding the All Whites in South Africa is Ricki Herbert, a star defender from the 1982 World Cup squad. He is the current manager of the Wellington Phoenix and also managed the New Zealand U-23 squad in the Olympics. In the qualification matches his club played in a 4-4-2 formation but against more experienced competition they may fall back into a 5-3-2 to play more conservatively and prevent blowouts.
The biggest name player on the club is Ryan Nelsen, a defender for the Blackburn Rovers of the English Premier League. Prior to joining the Rovers, Nelsen played college ball at Stanford for fellow Kiwi Bobby Clark and was drafted by DC United. The former Rover captain has led their stingy defense and looks to do the same for the All Whites. He will partner with young Winston Reid, a dual New Zealand-Danish citizen who is an up-and-coming player in Danish football.
The All White attack will be lead by Chris Kellen, a Celtic backup striker, and Shane Smeltz, who notched eight goals during the Oceania Qualification stage and is arguably the best offensive footballer in New Zealand. The squad is very tall, with an average player height of just over six feet, so their aerial ability is without question. And they can score at times – they notched three goals against Italy in a friendly last year and defeated Serbia in another friendly this year.
Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup is a major victory for New Zealand this year, so any points in the group stage is icing on the cake for this club. As such, the other three squads should use the Kiwis to paid their point total and goal difference. But a team who overlooks the All Whites and fails to take them seriously could become the new high point of New Zealand soccer history.