Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA World Cup Review – Oceania

Posted in International Football, Oceania Football by peterbein on July 12, 2010
New Zealand v Italy

New Zealand (in white) were unbeaten in their group but still failed to qualify for the knock out stages

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the fortunes of each continent in this year’s FIFA World Cup. We begin with a look at Oceania who could only field one entrant in the competition and were proudly represented by New Zealand.

The All Whites had only ever entered the FIFA World Cup finals once before in 1982 when they failed to gain a point in any of their three group matches. New Zealand, therefore, would perhaps have been happy just to gain a solitary point in this year’s tournament before a ball had been kicked. It was testament to their competitiveness and character that they were to be ultimately disappointed with the three points they gained by virtue of drawing all three games in South Africa.

In their first game Rikki Herbert’s New Zealand team played against Slovakia and were a match for their European opponents but it seemed, as the game reached second half stoppage time, that Robert Vittek’s 50th minute goal would be enough to separate the two sides. Winston Reid, the New Zealand central defender, had other ideas and headed home with virtually the last touch of the match. This gave the All Whites confidence ahead of their clash with defending world champions Italy and it was dreamland for the Antipodeans after just seven minutes when Shane Smeltz gave New Zealand a shock lead. Italy equalized via the penalty spot on the half hour mark and many people expected the Azzurri to go on from there but the New Zealand team remained resolute and very nearly stole the win at the end of the game but Chris Wood’s late effort just went wide of the post. This turned out to be a crucial miss in the end as New Zealand were unable to score past their final group opponents Paraguay in what was a goalless stalemate. So New Zealand, in contrast to their first World Cup appearance twenty eight years earlier, remained unbeaten but were unfortunate to see themselves finish third behind Paraguay and Slovakia. At least they had the consolation prize of finishing above the hapless Italians.

So what’s the future for football in New Zealand? Ryan Nelsen’s suggestion that his country should follow the lead of neighbours Australia by joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) not only seems sensible but, given time, inevitable. If the sport is to grow in what is normally a haven for rugby union then it needs to make such a move in order to ensure that the national team gets the required level of quality opposition on a regular basis. With all due respect to their qualifying opponents such as New Caledonia, Fiji or Vanuatu, the All Whites cannot afford to be playing against such sub-standard opposition unless they are also incorporated into the AFC footballing fraternity. The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) has done a lot to promote the game in the region but once the precedent of Australia joining the AFC came to fruition then it was only going to end up with New Zealand wishing to do the same thing. If New Zealand does eventually join the AFC then the OFC will become virtually redundant and, sad though that is, it will be the result of realpolitik in light of recent movements.

Hopefully we haven’t seen the end of New Zealand as a growing football force.

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