New Zealand's army of football unknowns are marching to South Africa with victory on the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ stage unlikely but holding out hope of progressing to glory on more distant fields.
Theirs is a rags to potential riches story from a country where rugby union is king and football struggles in its shadow for media space and sponsorship dollars. However, showcasing themselves in football's biggest shop window could produce life-changing results, says Rory Fallon whose header against Bahrain last November secured New Zealand's ticket to the the tournament.
"I really do feel this is a massive chance for me, not just me but other players in the (All Whites) as well, to really try and change our lives. This is life-changing stuff, hopefully we can do the business," he said.
Fallon's dream is echoed throughout the 23-man squad with its handful of European and United States-based players, a core from the Australian A-League, a sprinkling of local semi-professionals and a fully-fledged amateur. At one end of the scale is the marquee player Ryan Nelsen - skipper of Blackburn Rovers - and at the other is Andy Barron, a bank officer by day who plays for his local club on weekends before a few hundred spectators.
Even Barron sees the chance his banking career will be on hold if all goes well in South Africa. "Absolutely," he told his local Dominion Post newspaper in Wellington. "It's the World Cup. You're playing in front of a billion people. There will be scouts, clubs, everyone watching."
At least Barron has a club, which is more than can be said for defender David Mulligan who was with the A-League side Wellington Phoenix, also coached by All Whites manager Ricki Herbert, and who was let go in April after not receiving any game time in the past season. But Mulligan is hopeful something will come to light at the FIFA World Cup.
"At the minute I've not got a club, and I hope I get that time on the stage to prove I can do something," he said. "Football's a weird game, but I'm just looking forward to going to this World Cup to see what's on offer."
Fallon, a former England youth international and son of 1982 All Whites assistant coach Kevin Fallon, has targeted an English premiership contract after his Plymouth Argyle team was recently relegated from England's second-tier championship. "I really believe, if I have a good World Cup, I could play in the Premier League," Fallon stated. "I've played against Premier League players, and I know I can play against them."
Coach Herbert, who has turned a cast of players scattered around the globe into FIFA World Cup finalists, is already being sounded out to move overseas, according to local media reports. He has glowing credentials, having played in the 1982 All Whites, the only other New Zealand team to make the FIFA World Cup finals, and his contract as national coach expires after South Africa 2010.
Although he will not talk about his salaries, it is believed he only earns about $50,000 dollars (US $35,000) a year as All Whites coach on top of his salary as manager of the Phoenix in the Australian A-League. But Herbert is not making any rushed decisions, especially not before South Africa.
"To win (a game) on the world stage would be incredible," he said, targeting Slovakia who have never been to a World Cup before. "Do we put all our eggs in one basket and give it a crack against Slovakia? We probably will. If we get a favourable result, it will be a dream."
New Zealand also play defending champions Italy and Paraguay in Group F.