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New Zealand soccer World Cup team lucky just to be in the games

No one expects too much of New Zealand's All Whites in the World Cup โ€” not even the Kiwis themselves.

New Zealand team Waitakere United's Jason Hayne and Iranian team Sepahan's Hossein Kazemi battle for the ball at the FIFA Club World World Cup in Tokyo, Japan on December 7, 2007. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

New Zealand World Cup Team Statistics: Group F

Status: Knocked out round 2

World Ranking: 78

World Cup 2010 Results: 0-0-3

Total goals scored: 2

Total goals scored against: 2

New Zealand World Cup Schedule: June 15 - Slovakia (1-1 draw); June 20 - Italy (1-1 draw); June 24 - Paraguay (0-0 draw)

 

New Zealand World Cup Soccer 2010

Have you heard of the country’s All Blacks? Of course you have. New Zealand’s national rugby team is legendary, number-one ranked in the world and boasting a winning record against every other national team in the world.

Ever heard of the All Whites? Didn’t think so. New Zealand’s national soccer team is pretty much unknown internationally and even at home has been a decided afterthought. New Zealand didn’t even compete in soccer World Cup qualifying rounds until 1970.

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But with Australia now competing in the Asian zone, New Zealand is an Oceania juggernaut (competing against teams like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) and should have a shot at reaching the Cup Finals every four years. And folks in New Zealand, like folks everywhere, love a winner.

The prospect of a spot in South Africa brought 35,000 fans, a sea of white, to the decisive game in Wellington last November. And the government has backed this Cup campaign with $230,000, viewed as seed money to boost the game of soccer domestically.

New Zealand World Cup History: New Zealand has been only once before, in ’82, and lost all three games while surrendering a dozen goals.

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New Zealand World Cup Conventional Wisdom: New Zealand is just happy to be there — even at 1,000 to 1 odds, the highest in the tournament. Lucky to be there, too. First Australia bowed out of Oceania competition. Then, instead of facing the usual playoff against a superior South American team, FIFA pitted the Oceania champ against the fifth-place Asian team, Bahrain. In an uninspiring two-game set, New Zealand scored the lone goal. That could be its last of the 2010 Cup competition.

New Zealand World Cup Team Coach: Ricki Herbert

Herbert was a defender on the ’82 Cup team so he tends to think defense first. Unlike other national coaches, he moonlights as top man of the Wellington Phoenix. (Or maybe the national team is the side gig.) He has brooked criticism for relying on too many of his own club players.

New Zealand World Cup Team Strength: The team is big, determined and disciplined — and will play hard for 90 minutes.

New Zealand World Cup Team Weakness: Most of the players are New Zealand-based so the team lacks skilled players with elite experience.

New Zealand World Cup Key player: Mark Paston

Paston might already have been replaced in goal by Glenn Moss, had Moss not incurred a four-game suspension for verbally abusing the referee. Nobody regards Wellington’s Paston as a world-class keeper, but he will have to impersonate one if New Zealand hopes for a respectable Cup showing. His best break is that New Zealand drew three teams known as defensive sides. Regardless, Paston already has one golden moment to his credit; it was his save on a second-half penalty kick against Bahrain that saw New Zealand through to South Africa.

 

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