With this being New Zealand’s first World Cup appearance since 1982, the All Whites’ forthcoming participation in South Africa has generated a great deal of excitement in the country. However, there are some questioning the legitimacy of Ricki Herbert’s side’s qualification for the tournament. Having had to overcome the collective might of New Caledonia (146th in the world), Fiji (130th) and Vanuatu (153rd) in the group stage, New Zealand went through to the AFC-OFC play-off where they ran out 1-0 aggregate winners against an extremely blunt Bahrain (69th). With very little experience against top-level opposition, the All White’s could well be out of their depth during this summer’s tournament in a group which contains seasoned international sides such as Italy and Paraguay.
Since taking charge of New Zealand in 2005, Herbert, an ex-international himself, has wavered between both a 3-4-3 and a 4-4-2 system, although is most likely to opt for the latter against stronger opposition this June. The team’s most experienced player, Blackburn Rovers’ Ryan Nelsen, will play at the heart of the back four, whilst Chris Killen of Middlesbrough and Wellington Phoenix’s Leo Bertos provide a modicum of experience in the wide areas. Football League journeyman Rory Fallon should partner Shane Smeltz, once of Halifax Town, in attack, but, despite having relatively good goalscoring records for their country, are unlikely to give Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini many sleepless nights.
Despite having proved themselves to be well-organised and difficult to break down (albeit against relatively weak opposition), it’s hard to see how New Zealand are going to emerge from their World Cup experience with anything other than three comprehensive defeats. Pre-tournament friendlies against Australia, Serbia, Slovenia and Chile should give a better indication of where the team is at in terms of its playing level, but dramatic improvements will be required if the All White’s, the World Cup’s rank outsiders, are to achieve anything other than fourth place in Group F and a very early exit.
Probable starting XI: Mark Paston (Wellington Phoenix); Ben Sigmund (Wellington Phoenix), Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers), Ivan Vicelich (Auckland City FC), Tony Lochhead (Wellington Phoenix); Chris Killen (Middlesbrough), Tim Brown (Wellington Phoenix), Simon Elliot (Unattached), Leo Bertos (Wellington Phoenix); Rory Fallon (Plymouth Argyle), Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast United)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in AFC qualifying 2nd Round, AFC-OFC play-off winners
World Ranking: 78th