Thursday, November 19, 2009

Road to South Africa 2010: NZ All Whites in Finals

The New Zealand “All Whites” football team has scored an emotion-rousing 1-0 victory over Bahrain to win its slot for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. New Zealand has been to the finals of the world’s biggest sports tournament only once before, in 1982.

Everyone who has been to the Wellington Stadium for a big time rugby match (like the All Black’s second test win against the British Lions), or a World’s Sevens tournament, or a pulsating Hurricanes on-night, or a Wellington Phoenix game, will tell you why the ground is called The Cake Tin. It’s circular, it gets really noisy, and the energy flow is just incredible. The Mexican Wave was invented for this place. And so it was with the All Whites, the round ball drew a record crowd in the round house.

There’s a phrase in Peak Performance we call “feel like a family, play like a team”. Ricki Herbert drew this feeling out, and you could see it in the father-son joy of Rory and Kevin Fallon. Striker Rory scored the game’s goal, a handsome header off a corner. Kevin was assistant coach to the All Whites for the finals in Spain 27 years ago. He’s been in soccer every day since and Friday night’s game must have been a dream come true – again.

The largely amateur team had many heroes including goalkeeper Mark Paston who saved a penalty goal to save the match. Bloggers have been quick to examine the passion that was so keenly on display in Wellington, to the hardy spectacle I sat through on Saturday night in Milan, the All Blacks playing Italy. The Italian pack were just terrific to watch, but not a lot else unfortunately. Might we wish for champagne rugby this weekend at Twickenham? A good hammering will do just fine.

My own nerves will be focused on the USA Eagles vs Uruguay Rugby World Cup qualifying knock-out being played at in Fort Lauderdale. USA won last weekend’s game by five points, scoring four tries but having a poor final quarter. The outcome will be decided on total points and at the moment we’re only a try ahead. It’s no wonder that sport is the world’s seventh largest enterprise.