“He’s fine, he’ll be playing tomorrow…. He’s just resting. I asked him not to train… Hopefully Ryan is okay. If he’s not, I’ll play… He’s got a little tummy problem like we’ve all gone through…” All Whites Coach Ricki Herbert- playing it close to his chest before the Paraguay game.
It’s just over 7 hours to the All Whites Football World Cup game against Paraguay. As for the last two Thursdays TV ONE’s sports commentator is standing in a deserted rugby ground to introduce the News at 6 Sports segment. They could just bluescreen in the stadium for Saturday night’s All Black Test against Wales but because they’ve got the mobile technology they’re determined to prove it.
What’s the first item and the first real live cross? (Though with the agonizing time delays between question and answer it would be better to pre-record and edit). Yes, you’ve got it-the other World Cup. The one we’re doing quite well in, against the odds. The one even more of us are staying up to watch at 2am tomorrow morning.
In the past week the All Whites have done a reverse William Webb Ellis, dropped the ball on their toes and gone for it, carrying a lot of increasingly fanatical fans with them. The NZRU has got cause for pause for thought. Well away from the FIFA fiefdom, the fracture in the Kiwi monolithic rugby pedestal is clearly visible. Whereas the All Blacks have had the heavy hand of expectation since the initial Rugby World Cup-the only time they have won- the All Whites weren’t rated by many at the start of the season to qualify for the Football World Cup, let alone grab at least a couple of points.
With two draws in the space of five days white is certainly the new black . Against Paraguay it will be literally because the All Whites can’t play in all white so they’ll be all black temporarily.
While we’re counting down to kick off let’s remember what’s happened so far and replay the famous goals. A Bafokeng great football moment* at the fag end of the game against Slovakia. Then the opening goal Mbombela bombshell, with Nelsen’s Nelspruit defenders hanging on to draw against the balletic and ballistic world champion Italians.
You have to feel for the Slovaks-Czechmated by the Kiwi’s Lazurus move right at the expiry of three minutes of extra time. Okay, it was more of a stalemate-an improbable draw not a win, not that you would have known by the extent of the domestic euphoria outbreak as New Zealand notched up its first FIFA World Cup point.
Against Italy a few days later the Kiwis displayed grit and elbow grease reminiscent of some of our best netballers. On the other hand the Italians won the diving display hands down and filched a flock of fouls. It was obvious that they’d been trained at the Andy Hayden School of Sports Diving and Method Acting (SOSDAM). The alarm bells were certainly ringing early on and many Italian fans mistook them for church bells, so deep in prayer were they for most of the game.
As The Melbourne Age reported, shortly before the All Whites opened their Football World Cup campaign, their captain Ryan Nelsen was asked whether his team would be putting on a haka to flex the emotional muscles pre-kick off. ”Skinny white guys doing the haka?”, he said, shaking his head. ”Mmm. Very intimidating’.”
They certainly found other ways to beef up their self- belief.
Skinny Maori (and Danish resident) Winston Reid used his head to net a last-gasp equaliser* against Slovakia to earn the All Whites their first points at a World Cup. “This is the most important goal of my life… I try to get forward more often but don’t often score, so this is great.” The nation agreed.
In the Italian game Nelsen and his fellow stout defenders didn’t allow tiredness to cramp their style. Paston was very busy and very protective in goal, the Italians splaying 33 shots at goal to New Zealand’s 3.
The All Whites have had to call on the Kiwi diaspora and the pull of the national jersey to field a mixed team of amateurs and professionals to qualify for and play in the finals. If football transfer fees are an accurate football currency, Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz is worth more than 35 times the whole All Whites squad.
Whatever happens against Paraguay in a few hours people will remember the leadership and the team spirit demonstrated on and off the field by Ryan Nelsen and his hardy lieutenants. At the end of both games there were no kisses but more than a few hugs. Goal.com named Nelsen world player of the week by an international football website, for ”inspiring his side to two draws and giving the All Whites a shot at last 16 qualification”.
Nelsen has been battling a stomach bug today. Perhaps after 15 years the dreaded All Black Bacillus has risen Phoenix-like, like the All Whites themselves. Even if the captain makes it safely from the poop deck to the bridge is it too much to expect his team to complete a draw trifecta, let alone snatch a win, and make it into the next round?
My head says to be realistic and pick Paraguay 2 New Zealand 0. But I wouldn’t put a bet on it and my heart whispers that the New Zealanders might just have one more escape trick up their white sleeves. The elbow of Godzone? Then we really would blow our own vuvuzelas.
Win, lose or draw the real winner from this extraordinary World Cup campaign will be football in New Zealand, though many of us still put our foot in it and insist on calling the game soccer.
BLINKS Pr-print Vid-Video So-Sound Mm-multimedia
Football World Cup 2010: All Whites at finals Beating Bahrain to qualify 13/11/09 Vid
Goal against Slovakia –The All Whites scored in the final seconds of their first pool game to equalize against Slovakia and gain their first FIFA World Cup point. Vid
All Whites’ goal in 3D animation v Slovakia Mm