15 June 1982, Malaga, Spain. New Zealand makes their FIFA World Cup™ debut with a 5-2 defeat to Scotland.
15 June 2010, Rustenburg, South Africa. The All Whites end an agonising wait to return to the world's biggest stage with a match against Slovakia.
Today, New Zealand will finally make their long-awaited FIFA World Cup comeback exactly 28 years to the day since a group of amateur players from the ‘Land of the long white cloud’ took their place alongside the world’s elite. Much has changed for the All Whites since that hot European summer nearly three decades ago, and not just the tight shorts and moustaches. Aside from a handful of players who compete in the NZFC, most of the current squad are professional players who ply their trade in Europe, USA or Australia. The vast majority of the current group were also born in New Zealand, which also contrasts with ‘82, when a number of the squad were born in the UK.
Last time around, the Kiwis arguably found themselves in Spain 1982's group of death, pitted as they were against a very strong Scotland side in the opener; a side which featured the likes of Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish. The part-timers then fell 3-0 to the Oleg Blokhin-led Soviet Union, before losing 4-0 as Zico, Socrates, Eder and co weaved their magic for a legendary Brazilian side.
Fast forward to 2010 and the draw has been a little kinder to the Kiwis, though still presenting a massive challenge. Following the opener against Slovakia will be further outings against powerful South Americans Paraguay and world champions Italy.
The synergy between the two teams is significant, with current coach Ricki Herbert an ever-present in the ’82 line-up's defence. Herbert’s assistant at South Africa 2010, Brian Turner, was a key figure in the marathon qualifying campaign, which included a then-record 15 matches. Kevin Fallon, meanwhile, father of current striker Rory, was assistant to John Adshead in 1982.
Fallon Jnr scored the only goal of the two-legged play-off against Bahrain which sent New Zealand to South Africa 2010. His towering header in the final minute of the first-half and subsequent resolute performance over the remainder of the tie was, he explained later, inspired in part by the heroes of a previous generation.
“I saw the ‘82 team (being paraded around the ground) at the start of the warm-up (prior to the second-leg against Bahrain) and I thought, ‘We need to be in this World Cup because these people are remembered for this long’,” he said. “(It was a case of) This is our greatest opportunity to do this and we can really do something good for the game and really change things in New Zealand.
"The difference between the '82 team and today's is that they were amateurs - a lot of us are professionals. The '82 team probably went into that World Cup hoping to enjoy it, do well and not get hammered. We are going in to win games. That's the different mentality. A lot of our team are seasoned pros."
Skipper of the 1982 team and scorer of the first goal against Scotland, Steve Sumner, believes the portents are promising for the current crop. "I like what our guys are saying," said Sumner, who was in South Africa last week to receive the FIFA Order of Merit for his contribution to the game both on and off the field.
"John Adshead set us the target of scoring goals. We knew we could defend OK. (This time) they're talking of getting points, and I say go for it, pick up points, and even qualify for the second round. You've got to dream and believe as a player you can get something out of it. From our experience in 1982, I'd say go with confidence, back yourselves, and back your mates."