Coming into the Hero Intercontinental Cup, India is the highest ranked team sitting at 97th spot in the FIFA rankings. However, while facing New Zealand, currently 131st, India must well keep in mind what the Kiwis have achieved in the past, especially the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The FIFA World Cup is just around the corner and as the fever grips the entire football world, stories of inspirational journeys are doing the rounds over the internet. One such story is of the New Zealand football team who went on to write a script of their own, one of a kind, but still as beautiful as any out there.
ROAD TO SOUTH AFRICA 2010
Great FIFA World Cup stories begin with the days of the qualifiers, so does New Zealand’s 2010 tale. With Australia having moved to the AFC, the ‘All Whites’, as they are called, eased past their opponents in the OFC Qualifiers to make it to the Intercontinental Play-offs where they would meet Bahrain in a 2-legged affair.
The first leg saw Ricky Herbert’s side pull off a 0-0 draw in front of 37,000 Bahraini fans at the National Stadium in Rifa. One win and Herbert could become the only New Zealand born coach to lead the All Whites to the world cup finals.
The return leg was to be one of the most important football matches to be played on New Zealand’s soil – a place in the 2010 World Cup was at stake, to end a 27 year wait. A testimony was the mammoth turnout at Wellington’s Westpac football stadium that got their chance to erupt in the 45th minute when Rory Fallon headed in a corner by Leo Burtos to put the home side in the lead. 5 minutes into the second half, goal keeper Mark Paston saved Sayed Mohamed Adnan’s penalty to keep his side ahead. As the Kiwis held on to the 1 goal lead, a remarkable journey had begun.
UNASSAILABLE AT THE WORLD CUP
New Zealand were drawn in Group F alongside defending champions Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia. In terms of rankings, New Zealand stood at 78, while Italy was ranked 5, Paraguay 31 and Slovakia 34. With a squad that consisted of a player without a club and one that worked full-time in a bank (Andy Barron), not much was expected out of the New Zealanders but what followed is still one of the great examples of the beautiful game that football can prove to be.
Reid’s late heroics stun Slovakia
On June 15, New Zealand began their FIFA World Cup campaign against Slovakia. After a strong defensive display, the All Whites finally gave in to Róbert Vittek’s header that put the Slovaks ahead in the 50th minute. Just when everyone thought Slovakia’s first ever goal in the world cup finals would come in a winning cause, New Zealand, kept in the hunt thanks to scrambling defending, leveled the scores through Reid’s head with just over 45 seconds to spare.
As the final whistle was blown, the world embraced the underdogs from a place used to a different kind of football.
Coach Ricky Herbert hailed the result as the best ever in New Zealand’s history.
Scripting history against Italy
With the nation still buzzing with their team’s last gasp draw against Slovakia, a sense of doubt prevailed when the side took to field against defending champions Italy. The Italians came in as outright favorites and any football fan could have easily predicted a rout.
It all changed in the 7th minute of the match when the first goal was scored not by a blue shirt, but a white one worn by Shane Smeltz. Italy did find the equalizer through a penalty in the 29th minute but the favorites to win the cup couldn’t put a second past Mark Paston’s goal and as a result, New Zealand achieved the near unthinkable – holding Italy to a 1-1 draw.
Making it 3 in 3 against Paraguay
Now being recognized across the globe for their heroics, the Kiwis had to put on one more memorable performance against South American heavy weights Paraguay. No one would have thought that a win here would take New Zealand to the round of 16s.
As the ball rolled in Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium, the All Whites, in all black kits picked up from where they left. Bringing the term ‘water-tight defense’ to life, goal keeper Patson and co. managed to keep Paraguayan shots outside their net. With the match heading to a goal-less draw, Herbert’s men pushed harder for a winner but could not score. As the final whistle blew, New Zealand bowed out of the tournament with 3 points from 3 matches.
New Zealand finished their World Cup group at the 3rd place, ahead of a star-studded Italy (2 points) and a point behind Paraguay, who went on to the Quarter finals where eventual champions Spain ended their campaign.
With 3 draws in the group stage, New Zealand emerged as the only team to remain undefeated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The story of New Zealand’s journey may not have a fairy tale ending to make it to the big books but it makes one respect the game of football and its players a tad bit more.
India take on New Zealand in the Hero Intercontinental Cup on June 7 at the Mumbai Football Arena.