Drawn in Group F at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ alongside Paraguay, Slovakia and world champions Italy, few would have backed New Zealand to finish anywhere but bottom of the section. Yet though Ricki Herbert’s battling All Whites take their leave from South Africa 2010 without having won a game nor have they tasted defeat, while their three-point tally was enough to consign the title holders to the group’s wooden spoon.

Indeed, the Kiwis’ goalless draw in their final game with Paraguay ensured that the Oceania outfit finished third in the section, though a win would have sent them into the knockout stages for the very first time.

“Playing at a World Cup has been a dream come true for me,” said 18-year-old striker Chris Wood, the squad’s youngest player who came off the bench in each of their three group encounters, in an interview with FIFA. “It’s been a special and wonderful experience and one which I’ve learnt a lot from. We’ve handled the occasion well and we’ve grown in confidence, which is important."

The West Bromwich Albion forward also touched upon the chances missed by the All Whites, particularly against Italy and Paraguay. “Perhaps a lack of concentration proved decisive,” said Wood, though New Zealand did score with two of their three attempts on target. “In any case, I did what I could. As well as playing well, a player sometimes needs a little bit of luck too.”

“Next up for me is going back to England, where I’ve still got plenty to learn,” continued the powerfully built front-runner, when quizzed on the Antipodeans’ potential for progression with a view to Brazil 2014. “And who knows, perhaps in four years’ time with more experience under our belts we’ll be even more competitive.”

We came into this competition as certainties to finish fourth in the group. Instead of that we’ve managed to hold the world champions to a draw.

New Zealand midfielder Ivan Vicelich

From one of the squad’s young tyros, next FIFA chatted to 33-year-old centre-back Ivan Vicelich, who spoke of mixed feelings in the New Zealand camp. “Everyone has done a great job and we’ve done better than we were expected to. It’s really great that we’ve come through a World Cup without losing a match, we’re all very happy. That said, we weren’t far away from going through. But we can console ourselves that we were in a tough group and up against stronger and more experienced teams.”

For the Auckland City stalwart, his highlight of South Africa 2010 was the 1-1 draw with La Nazionale. “We came into this competition as certainties to finish fourth in the group. Instead of that we’ve managed to hold the world champions to a draw – something that I’ll never forget. You can’t put into words how we all felt after that match. We didn’t get that result through luck either, it came from a solid performance. We made chances and could even have won the game.”

“Last year we went to the Confederations Cup (in South Africa) but we made too many mistakes and didn’t make much of a stir,” continued the former Roda JC and RKC Waalwijk defender. “We’re in a better position now and have earned the other teams’ respect. We ought to be optimistic about the future.”

On that note, does the veteran feel that appearing at another FIFA World Cup finals would be within his reach? “Football’s a real pleasure and I’ll keep playing a long for as long as I still enjoy it and the supporters still appreciate me,” said Vicelich as the interview concluded.

“I could maybe give you a better answer to your question in a couple of years’ time, though. As you know, the game evolves quickly, the style of play changes and that’s why it’s difficult to decide anything now.”