New Zealand endured a 28-year absence from the FIFA World Cup™ before reaching South Africa 2010 with a drama-charged intercontinental victory over Bahrain. The 1-0 aggregate scoreline may have been on a knife-edge throughout but even that could not compare with the All Whites' adventures in reaching Spain 1982. The Kiwis played a then-record 15 matches to qualify, including a remarkable 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Riyadh when anything less would have resulted in elimination. There followed a character-filled 2-1 play-off win over China PR in neutral Singapore, to deny the world’s most populous nation their first appearance on the world stage.
FIFA World Cup finals history
New Zealand were dealt the toughest draw imaginable for their FIFA World Cup debut. The Kiwis were forced to open against a Scotland side featuring some of their all-time greats, before meeting USSR and rounding out their campaign against a vintage Brazil, and the likes of Zico and Eder. It was little surprise that the amateur New Zealanders were unable to secure a point but they took solace from two goals in a 5-2 defeat against Scotland. Incredibly the All Whites completed South Africa 2010 as the only unbeaten team, although draws against world champions Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, meant elimination at the group stage.
The current crop
The All Whites have had limited opportunities to test their new found self-assurance on the international stage since South Africa 2010. An inability to find the net has been a recurring theme in the few matches they have played, despite coach Ricki Herbert often starting with three forwards. While age is likely to prevent some of the key personnel from South Africa 2010 featuring at Brazil 2014, a host of new faces is likely to see the All Whites enjoying greater depth than has previously been the case.
The key players
Captain Ryan Nelsen is the team’s leader in every sense and his performances in the heart of defence are constantly of a high standard. The only question mark is the advancing years of a body which has suffered numerous injuries. Striker Shane Smeltz has a prolific goalscoring record at club level and, with the ability to score a wide variety of goals, is a classic No9. New Zealand are well stocked in the goalkeeping department, highlighted by Mark Paston, who demonstrated his qualities under pressure both in South Africa and in the qualifiers.
Coach: Ricki Herbert
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Spain 1982, South Africa 2010 (Group stages), FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 (Round of 16)
Former stars: Wynton Rufer, Steve Sumner, Steve Wooddin