After a disastrous campaign four years ago, New Zealand bounced back in emphatic fashion under coach Ricki Herbert to qualify for their first appearance on the world stage in 28 years following a debut showing at Spain 1982. Herbert, and assistant Brian Turner, were both key figures in the campaign nearly three decades ago. The duo have turned the All Whites into a solid unit whose rearguard, the fifth-placed Asian nation Bahrain was unable to breach over 180 minutes of the intercontinental play-off.
Four years after elimination by the Solomon Islands, the Kiwis claimed the Oceania crown to earn a trip to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, where they showed solid form after a poor opening against European champions Spain. The dramatic South Africa 2010 play-off victory against Bahrain united the Rugby-mad nation behind the All Whites like never before, resulting in a national record crowd in the capital Wellington for the decisive qualifier.
The road to South Africa
New Zealand topped their Oceania qualification group comfortably winning their first five games before an inconsequential defeat in Fiji with many of the first-team regulars were unavailable. The Kiwis then had an 11-month wait before a two-legged meeting with the fifth-placed Asian nation. Bahrain saw off regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia to earn the right to play New Zealand, having also reached the same stage four years ago, only to fail against Trinidad and Tobago. In exhausting heat, New Zealand battled gamely in the first leg to earn a scoreless draw in Manama. The second leg was poised on a knife-edge throughout, with New Zealand triumphing courtesy of a thumping header from Rory Fallon in the final minute of the first half, though goalkeeper Mark Paston will equally be remembered in the years to come for his penalty save five minutes into the second half.
The star players
Captain and centre-back Ryan Nelsen is undoubtedly the highest profile and best credentialed member of the squad. The resolute defender has been a regular at Blackburn Rovers for a number of years, and is the only New Zealander to achieve such longevity in the English Premier League. At the other end of the pitch, the All Whites have a number of key attacking options led by the prolific Shane Smeltz. Oceania Player of the Year and Australian A-League top-scorer Smeltz has an all-round finishing ability, and is deadly in the air or with his feet. Celtic target-man Chris Killen is a perfect foil for Smeltz, while Fallon and teenage giant Chris Wood both possess quality aerial ability.
Ricki Herbert is one of New Zealand football’s most-famous figures, having been a regular member of the Spain ’82 squad and then becoming one of the first Kiwis to play in England which he did with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After assuming the reins of the national team in 2005, Herbert has for several seasons also been the coach of New Zealand’s only professional club, Wellington Phoenix who compete in the A-League. Well regarded across both New Zealand and Australia, Herbert has formed the All Whites into a solid working unit who produce consistent performances.
Previous FIFA World Cups
New Zealand have appeared on the world stage just once, with the qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ considered one of the country’s most famous sporting achievements. The squad attained stunning results including away wins in Australia, Saudi Arabia and China over a then-record 15-match qualification campaign. Featuring a teenage Wynton Rufer, who went on to become New Zealand’s most well-known export, the All Whites lost all three matches at Spain ’82, but were not disgraced in a high-quality group featuring Brazil, Soviet Union and Scotland.
• Coach Ricki Herbert is set to claim the rare honour of featuring at the FIFA World Cup as a player and as a coach in the nation’s only two FIFA World Cup appearances.
• New Zealand are the second consecutive Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) member to qualify for the FIFA World Cup after Australia achieved the same feat in 2006.
What they said
“This group have given it everything, four years of total commitment. We’re back, we’re there. South Africa, here we come.” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert.