Monday, June 28, 2010

Unbeaten And Unbowed

Everyone with even a passing interest in football will have been enjoying this World Cup, where reputations have been turned on their head. France and Italy imploded; England are out, as is USA; African teams haven’t enjoyed the continental bounce they might have expected – but go Ghana!; Maradona is busy growing up as a manager/motivator. And my hometown team, the All Whites from New Zealand, have had an inspirational run which saw them unbeaten and unbowed. Coach Ricki Herbert planned every game meticulously, and inspired the team to play at peak. Who could ask for more?

It was only our second appearance at a World Cup, the first being back in 1982. In that World Cup we lost all three in a group that included Brazil and the Soviet Union. This time, we didn’t lose a single game, holding the 2006 World Champions Italy to a famous draw, which we also did with quality teams from Slovakia and Paraguay. For a country with only 25 professional footballers, that’s some achievement. I served for a time on the board of NZ Soccer and the key decision our CEO Graham Seatter and Chairman John Morris drove during my term was appointing Ricki as the coach. He is a good man and is due immense credit for marshalling his limited resources so well.

The captain Ryan Nelsen was a true inspiration. He organized the defence superbly, and drew the best out of his team-mates. Tommy Smith had an excellent tournament, Mark Paston was immense in goal. They kept out celebrated world-class attacking players such as Roque Santa Cruz, Alberto Gilardino and Marek Hamsik. Shane Smeltz and Rory Fallon worked hard up front and although we couldn’t score many, we didn’t let many in either. Our next step is to develop our midfield and attacking talent (Chris Wood looks promising), and make the next World Cup even more special.

The New York Times called our team ethic one of “rock-solid collective gut”. Our team was a family, and in just a few weeks it turned into a family of five million – New Zealand United. It felt great. None of us is as strong as all of us. Bring on Brazil in 2014.