I must start with a confession: before this tournament’s kick-off I was expecting to see the „all whites” slaughtered in their group, making zero points and returning home with a severelly negative goal balance. The reason for my expectations was not only the rather clumsy performance of the kiwis at the 2009 Confederations Cup, but also the obvious weakness of their 22 man lot.
New Zealand is probably the only team in the last few decades that came to a World Cup with a delegation that included SEVERAL amateur and semi-professional players, and this made almost everyone believe they were going to be severelly beaten by teams like Italy, Paraguay or even Slovakia.
What I failed to take into account was the absolutelly tremendous fighting spirit displayed by the „all whites” during their World Cup appearance. While most of the players were obviously lacking the technical capabilities of their opponents, each and every one of them compensated by giving 200% on the field. On top of that, Mark Paston proved himself to be by far the best goalkeeper of the group stage, saving all that could be saved and even some shots that should have been imparable.
Amazingly enough, this determination turned to be enough in order to overcome all odds. New Zealand should have won the match with Italy, the current world champion, but a shameful call by a referee from Guatemala allowed the italians to score the equaliser from the penalty spot. And even after that, the best chance to win the match was missed by 19 years old Chris Wood, whose shot came centimeters off the italian far post.
The other two matches played by the kiwis in South Africa also ended with draws: the „all whites” heroically resisted to the eventual group winners, Paraguay, and managed to score an equaliser against Slovakia with only a few seconds left on the extra-time counter. With 3 points and a 2-2 goal balance, New Zealand’s football team goes home unbeaten, after finishing his group in front of the (still) current world champion.
This being said, I consider that the true winner of this World Cup isn’t going to be the team that will raise the trophy at the end of the final. The 2010 tounament already has a winner, and this is New Zealand, the tiny team who came from the end of the map and prooved to all the small teams in the world that the impossible dream can be dreamed and the unreachable stars can be reached.