Tuesday, May 25, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup: New Zealand

We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.

Appearance: Second overall
Last time there: 1982, exited in first round
Best performance: Has never advanced past first round

No one benefited more from the World Cup qualifying draw than New Zealand. Instead of being in the same region as neighboring Australia, New Zealand drew into a group with Fiji, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu, with the winner moving into a playoff with the team out of an Asian region.

New Zealand and Bahrain ended up paired off for a finals berth, and New Zealand forced a road draw before winning the return match 1-0 to advance.

It's just a wonderful thing for the Kiwis and their soccer program. This isn't, however, going to end well.

There is some talent to work with for coach Ricki Herbert. Forward Shane Smeltz can score, captain Ryan Nelson and Ben Sigmund work hard on defense, and veteran Simon Elliott is an okay midfielder. Herbert benefits from the fact that his team is probably the biggest underdog in the tournament, even moreso than first-time entrant Slovakia, who is also in Group F. The Kiwis will be underdogs, playing with no expectations, and they'll be well-acclimated to the climate, given New Zealand's location in the Southern Hemisphere.

The problem is that there just isn't any top-notch skill available, and there is virtually no depth. Even given a somewhat favorable draw outside of group favorite Italy, New Zealand figures to be a quick and painless exit from the finals.

June 15 vs. Slovakia (Rustenburg)
June 20 vs. Italy (Nelspruit)
June 24 vs. Paraguay (Polokwane)