SA 2010: New Zealand Have Tough Group, but It's a Funny Old Game

illya mclellanSenior Analyst IDecember 5, 2009

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 14:  The All Whites sing the national anthem before the 2010 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier match between New Zealand and Bahrain at Westpac Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)
Marty Melville/Getty Images

The New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert was said to have been relieved that the team had avoided Ivory Coast, Portugal, and France during the drawing of the groups for the opening phase of the tournament.  However, though avoiding these teams has been accomplished, it just means NZ now just have three other teams that will be reasonably confident of getting wins against them.

The reality for NZ is that really it was always going to be a tough group because of the teams standing and experience in world football. They will face cup holders Italy, third place South American qualifiers Paraguay, and Slovakia, who topped their European qualifying group and are appearing at their first world cup.

The objective now for NZ is to prepare for the tournament with games against top level opposition so that on the opening day against Slovakia they have a chance to really compete with the Europeans who are ranked 34th in the FIFA world standings.

The beauty of football is that though NZ are up against sides that would expect to beat them without too much trouble, the world cup's history is littered with the wreckage of top sides that have fallen to unfancied opponents.

The world cup always presents upsets, NZ just have to hope that they are part of this quirky part of the cups history at the close of next years tournament.

Friendly fixtures for the side in the lead up to the tournament could possibly involve France, Australia and maybe another of the Asian qualifiers at this stage. It would probably also be advisable for the teams management to look into playing a South American side as well so that they have an idea of how the Paraguayans will come at them.

It is all ahead of the team at this point though and at the moment the main thing to most NZ fans is that their team is even at the tournament. Winning games and scoring goals is always what is wanted for the team you support but at the same time it will not be a world cup disaster for NZ if they return having scored no goals and lost three games.

The real boost for NZ with participation in the tournament involves the chance for the game to get exposure in the New Zealand national media that it is not normally afforded and also of course the chance for players in the squad to be picked up by foreign clubs if they are able to impress in any way at the tournament.

There is also of course the infrastructural boost that being in the biggest sporting event in the world involves as well. Administration and management practices are fine tuned and the organism that is NZ football generally will get a work out in the months leading up to the cup as well.

New Zealand's world cup was always going to be tough, but the New Zealand side are sportsmen after all and any one who plays or watches sport it knows, no one ever walks out into a match wanting to lose. Desire will be a huge thing for the New Zealanders in every game as it is one way of compensating for more skillful opponents.

In football anything can happen and invariably does, NZ will hope that their preparation is able to put them in the position to have a chance to ask serious and pointed questions of their more favoured opponents when the cup kicks off.