I only met Murray Shaw for the first time a few months back as we sat on a panel at the Football Writer’s Festival in Jamberoo.
With New Zealand sure to be in ecstasy after Ricki Herbert’s men stole a well deserved point in their opening World Cup match against Slovakia, the Socceroos should take a lesson from our trans-Tasman counterparts.
With New Zealand being large underdogs, and probably written off by many before they even landed in South Africa, the persistence and heart on display earned the All Whites a crucial point in their first World Cup finals appearance in 28 years.
Herbert attacked from the beginning with a mobile 3-4-3 line up which saw New Zealand’s A-League contingent lead the line. Smeltz up front with Killen and Fallon, Bertos and Lochead on either flank with Elliot and Vicellich in the centre, and Ryan Nelson marshaling a three man back line of Reid and Smith.
I was quite impressed with the way New Zealand played; the wide forwards dropping back in defence, the centre backs tucking in tight and the midfield working all game to close the space.
Then the transition to attack which utilized the flanks and had a steady build up mixed the the quick forward ball. These two factors are what brought Slovakia undone in the dieing minutes.
The result, a strong defensive display, led from the front, and a good game plan. Herbert deployed his players to great effect having done his homework and having the measure, at least tactially, on Slovakia.
With the Slovaks boasting names such as Skrtel and Hamsik, along with a contingent of players from strong leagues including Turkey and Russia, they were always going to be favourites.
The fact that half New Zealand’s squad came from the A-League appeared to everyone but the All Whites as an ominous sign. Ominous or not, New Zealand stepped up and should be applauded.
The Socceroos should have been keenly watching as New Zealand defended (for the most part, excluding some lapses in marking and positioning) the way Australia should endeavor to in their coming matches.
The All Whites’ transitional play may have been somewhat jagged at times against a faster playing, well drilled and skillful Slovak side, but NZ did manage to create more than one scare for the Europeans.
Having already proven they can beat quality teams (Serbia, anyone?) New Zealand were playing with confidence and it appeared that they thought right up until the last whistle that they could win.
A draw resulted as the next best thing, which is a great achievement in itself.
The result leaves all the teams in Group F on one point, with one goal for and one goal against.
Should New Zealand beat Paraguay (a tough ask after seeing the South Americans match Italy) and have some luck, they could well progress to the Round of 16.
I wouldn’t discount it!
Let’s hope NZ’s display inspires our Socceroos and we lift a few levels, play with some heart, believe we are in a match for every second, and produce some gutsy play akin to that of our ANZAC brothers.
What’s more is that NZ showed a good attacking game, one which could suit Australia equally well, and maybe, just maybe a Christmas – in July – miracle could see Verbeerk come out with all guns blazing, throw caution to the wind and implement a revolutionary 3-3-4. Or at least make an attacking substitution, like bringing on Chris Wood.
Well done New Zealand, and in particular Elliot, for you have just earned the respect of the footballing world.