Having played in only one previous World Cup tournament, New Zealand face an uphill task as they arrive at South Africa 2010 with a group of players that have a lot of heart but little by way of international experience.
Last years’ Confederations Cup performances will weigh heavy on the mind of New Zealand coach, Ricki Herbert as he looks to avoid a repeat of the tournament, during which they conceded seven goals and failed to register one of their own. During the Confederations Cup they lost 5-0 to Spain in a game which could easily have ended far worse for the All Whites. But, despite getting over-run by the faster continental players on the big occasion, the New Zealand side do have a highly-regarded talisman in defense.
Captain Ryan Nelson of Blackburn Rovers in England’s Premier League is the standout player for the All Whites. Nelson has been a solid performer in the Premier League and will have to bring some of his Premiership experience to South Africa if he is to help New Zealand negotiate a tricky Group F line-up that includes Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay. Joining Nelson in the “players to watch” category is Rory Fallon. The Plymouth Argyle striker is strong in the air and his presence in the team will mean that opposition defenders won’t be allowed a moment’s peace come game time.
New Zealand’s first-choice goalkeeper for the tournament will be Mark Paston. Paston became the hero for the All Whites with a crucial penalty save during 1-0 win against Bahrain in qualifying play-offs, which secured their place at South Africa 2010. Paston will almost certainly be one of the busiest goalkeepers at the World Cup and so the reactions he showed against Bahrain will certainly be needed again in South Africa.
While this New Zealand team includes plenty of players who will work tirelessly on the field, most bookmakers have decided that Rick Herbert’s men will struggle immensely against opposition players that have the edge both in terms of skill and experience. It is certainly possible for this New Zealand side to secure a draw in one of their group games if their towering defensive line manages to hold firm, but moving beyond the group stage looks beyond them. This group of players has done exceedingly well to get to South Africa 2010 and their fans will enjoy the party atmosphere in the knowledge that their trip will likely end with predictable, albeit honorable defeat for their hard-working team.
Prediction: 4th place finish in Group F.
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