New Zealand All Whites celebrate their goal against Italy at the World Cup.

New Zealand players celebrate after New Zealand's Shane Smeltz, partially visible at second from left, scored a goal, during the World Cup Group F soccer match between Italy and New Zealand at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, Sunday, June 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

This column was going to be exclusively about the Socceroos’ gutsy performance against Ghana, but it would be remiss of me to ignore an even more impressive performance by the New Zealand All Whites to hold out defending champions Italy in the upset of the tournament.

In a tournament of upsets, this took the cake due to the sheer gulf in experience and supposed tactical superiority between the Italians and a New Zealand side made up by a core group of players and coaching staff from the A-League’s Wellington Phoenix, their domestic league and players in the lower divisions in England.

The grit and determination to grind out unexpected results against adversity (All Whites against the defending champs, Socceroos with a man down) saw both antipodean teams show that fighting spirit that both countries like to demonstrate in their sporting performances.

It was incredible to see the Kiwi fans in the stands rejoicing as their All Whites confidently held out the desperate Italian attacks, with the Kiwis replicating the Phoenix’s tradition of “shirts off with 10 to go” and exposing the world to some Kiwi skin!

It felt more like a Phoenix home game at Westpac Stadium than a crucial World Cup group match in front of a global audience who probably couldn’t point New Zealand on a map.

Like the Socceroos four years ago, the All Whites are riding a wave of emotion and self-belief. Qualifying was the ultimate goal, giving them both the confidence of going to the tournament with nothing to lose.

“I think that has stopped our nation of four million people,” coach Ricki Herbert told AAP.

“It’s an incredible result and it’s way above anything we have achieved before against the stature of our competitors.

“Anything is possible and we’re doing okay for a team who some said shouldn’t be playing at this World Cup.”

After much debate about the future of the Wellington Phoenix and Oceania, the All Whites are playing for more than just national honour.

The result is a huge fillip for the A-League.

With players such as Shane Smeltz (scorer against the Italians), Mark Paston (the star against the Italians) and Jason Culina for the Socceroos performing so admirably on the biggest stage, our little league is being represented very well.

And let’s not forget about Herbert.

For the second straight match Herbert stuck to his plan of being defensively well structured and organised, led by inspirational captain Ryan Nelsen.

Herbert has instilled his team with a self-belief, compensating for their obvious limitations in terms of personnel by being very well organised at the back, yet with the confidence (and ability) to go forward and hold the ball up when needed.

But it’s only a strategy that will pay off with the right balance and confidence in the XI to do the job.

This point was proved in the contrast between the Socceroos’ performances against Germany and Ghana.

Verbeek and the Socceroos should be praised for rebounding in such a way, with the Dutchman showing faith in players such as Carl Valeri, Brett Holman, David Careny and co, and, unlike the game against Germany, allowing the team to play.

They restored pride in the shirt with their dramatic form reversal.

Compared to the Ghana match, what’s even more obvious now is the defeatist attitude that pervaded Verbeek’s tactics and the Socceroos’ performance against Germany, and will cost us the chance to match our achievements of four years ago in progressing past the group stage.

As the All Whites have shown, a bit of self-belief goes a long way.

The story of the 2010 World Cup is fast becoming how the minnows are stopping the heavyweights from playing.

Remarkably, England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France have won only one of their nine games at the time of writing.

Are the heavyweights being unduly burdened by expectations or are their players just too fatigued for the rigours of a World Cup following a seemingly endless club season? Or are the minnows, helped by the increased professionalism of their own leagues, grinding out results with their well structured defensive strategies, forcing the fatigued powerhouses to chase the games?

As we’ve seen, if they get it right, the minnows are more than capable of grinding out a result and causing a few upsets.

Incredibly, both Australia AND New Zealand are in contention for the final 16 going into the final group games.

For the Socceroos, the equation is simple: should Ghana defeat Germany and the Socceroos defeat Serbia, we go through. That’s our best bet. The goal swing needed with any other result is simply too great for a team with the striker shortfall that the Socceroos have.

The Germany match will ultimately cost the Socceroos – as it should, hopefully remembered as a reminder of how the Socceroos must never approach a game again.

With this in mind, some may view the tournament as failure due to their inability to match their Round of 16 appearances in 2006.

But at least an enormous amount of pride and faith has been restored in the Socceroos, overcoming the damage done by the Germany game.

For the All Whites, a result against Paraguay and another stalemate for Italy would see New Zealand into the final 16.

Who would have thought it?

But it doesn’t matter what happens in their final group game.

The All Whites have won their World Cup.

Re-live the All Whites vs Italy clash as it happened with Tony Tannous’ analysis HERE

Adrian Musolino
Adrian Musolino

Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.