Great sporting moments don’t make their presence felt all that often in a small country such as New Zealand.
But last night the All Whites surely gave us one to cherish for many years to come. A one-all draw against Slovakia is not to be scoffed at. That the All Whites got to the world cup finals in the first place was a feat that should not be underestimated. Only thirty-two teams can gain entry into the finals in a sport that is truly global. So, for little old New Zealand to make it to the finals, ranked only eighty-second in the world, was a momentous achievement. Then, to add to that, to march out on to their field of dreams and dare to think they can actually win against (or at least draw) teams that are ranked anywhere up to eighty places higher than them is simply preposterous.
Well, it seems this mob don’t understand the meaning of “it can’t be done”. Oh no, not for them to go to South Africa and just make up the numbers. They’re not content with that. They have to believe that they can somehow gain this country’s first ever world cup point.
Never mind those doubters amongst us that said it can’t be done. What would we know? It turns out not much at all, thankfully. For the All Whites gave a performance that they can be justifiably proud of. Not only that, we should all revel in what is a mighty achievement. Let’s remember that this isn’t our main sport here. Sure, it may have the highest number of participants of children up to the age of sixteen. But, after that, rugby rules in New Zealand. So for New Zealand to be producing these type of performances in a truly global sport is remarkable.
What would have been most pleasing about their performance for their mass of followers, was, despite being on the back foot for the majority of the match, they simply refused to give up. They defended like their lives depended on preventing the opposition from scoring. And with all the attacking opportunities that Slovakia had at their feet, for the All Whites to keep them to one goal was a fabulous effort. Not only that, but they were extremely unlucky to have conceded that goal as replays showed that the goal scorer was offside.
This is a team with true spirit. These are the type of guys that if you were at war, you would want in the trenches next to you, for they stuck together no matter what the adversity facing them was. That they were being comprehensively outplayed (with the exception of the first fifteen minutes) and still managed to find a way to keep the score close enough to attack in the dying seconds was a credit to them and their mental toughness.
One suspects that this team is all the better for Captain Ryan Nelsen’s presence,too. He is their one player of true world class. After all, one doesn’t get to ply their trade in the English premiership without being of a certain quality. With Nelson comes an attitude where playing to make up the numbers is not acceptable. And you can be sure that as the game progressed last night, and it was increasingly looking like Slovakia would rack up a big win, that Nelsen was the adhesive that held the team together.
Not only are the All Whites lucky to have Nelsen in the team, they are even more fortunate to have Ricky Herbert at the helm as coach. He has done a wonderful job with both the All Whites and the Wellington Phoenix. First he got the Phoenix to the penultimate weekend of the A league, now he has managed to make the All Whites competitive on the world stage. If this guy isn’t the best coach of any sport in New Zealand, then Nero didn’t like fire and was the sanest emperor in the history of the Roman Empire.
Having done a splendid job up until now, all Herbert has to do now is find a way for his troops to invade the enemy territories of Italy and Paraguay and come away with at least a win and a draw from those remaining two matches of pool play.
Not hard at all, really. After all, they have already shown that they can beat the odds.