All Whites could be a Small Great Hope in South Africa
Many believe New Zealand’s World Cup will be over the moment the final whistle blows on its third group match against Paraguay on June 24. But the All Whites are determined to not merely make up the numbers in South Africa. And somewhat ironically, they need not look far to find inspiration for the tournament. The answer lies just over the Tasman Sea.
Yes, Australia. The old rival. The country that – for a large part of Monday night’s friendly – New Zealand had the better of.
You only need to look at the similarities between what Australia faced in 2006 and New Zealand’s situation at the 2010 equivalent to see why.
Let’s start with the groups.
Ricki Herbert’s team shares Group F with Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay. Australia had Brazil, Japan and Croatia last time out.
The Azzurri should have little trouble progressing. But second place should be a genuine goal for the All Whites, similar to what Australia was able to do in 2006 behind Brazil.
Slovakia is ranked 34 in the FIFA world rankings; Paraguay at number 30. New Zealand trails in 78th, but that matters little come the World Cup.
A win and a draw might be all that is needed to earn a cherished Round of 16 place.
The similarities to Australia’s 2006 tournament don’t end there. The Socceroos were a physically tough side in Germany in 2006 – a trait that helped it no end against Japan and Croatia.
New Zealand would do well to take a similar approach. Certainly, the All Whites were a far taller side than the Socceroos on Monday night.
11 outfield players New Zealand used in the friendly were six feet tall or over, while four are over 190cm.
Strikers Rory Fallon, Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen might not be known to the defences of Paraguay and Slovakia, but the trio troubled Australia enough to suggest it will be dangerous if underestimated.
Chris Wood could have the wildcard role Joshua Kennedy had for Australia in 2006. The 18-year-old is 191cm, raw and keen. He’s not afraid to get stuck in, and is a handy bench option for the All Whites if they need to chase a goal.
Of course – and again, like Australia in 2006 – Herbert’s squad is not without some glaring inadequacies.
Depth is poor, as evidenced by the call-up of David Mulligan – a player who made just three appearances in two years under Herbert at Wellington Phoenix before his release this season.
The All Whites also need to sharpen up in defence. Both Australia’s goals came after New Zealand’s back four fell asleep. Holman’s in particular – so late in the game – would have riled Herbert.
But if New Zealand can replicate and maintain its control and structure seen against Australia in the first half, then perhaps results against Slovakia and Paraguay will be possible.
The All Whites mightn’t have gotten the result they deserved against Australia on Monday.
But New Zealand – known, of course, as the Land of the Long White Cloud – could be a team of the Small Great Hope in South Africa.
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