Having failed to find many sources of hope when previewing New Zealand’s chances in South Africa, today the All Whites suggested that their second-ever World Cup may not simply be two weeks of red-faced humiliation.
After making it through the less-than-challenging Oceania qualifying route and possessing few players of real international pedigree, it’s clear why Ricki Herbert’s side aren’t fancied to cause much of a fuss in Group F alongside Slovakia, Paraguay and Italy.
And while today’s 2-1 loss away to neighbours Australia, ranked 20th in the world alongside Nigeria, doesn’t quite hint at them causing one of the all-time World Cup shocks, it does at least offer some evidence to counter the feeling that three heavy losses are on the cards for the side ranked 78th
Given the traditional rivalry between the nations, today’s encounter in Melbourne was always going to be a well-contested affair, belying its status as a World Cup warm-up match. It would have done New Zealand good, therefore, to play in front of the partisan 55,659 fans at the MCG, and indeed they silenced the majority by going in at half time the better side, 1-0 up thanks to goal from Middlesbrough’s Chris Killen.
A failure to extend that lead despite chances hinted at potential goalscoring issues in South Africa, particularly as the Aussies went on to win the game, equalising through Nurenburg’s Dario Vidosic before a last-minute winner from Alkmaar’s Brett Holman.
Boss Herbert will be upset at not having clung on for a draw but nevertheless he will take much heart from the fact that his side competed for the full 90 minutes against an Australian outfit that Fifa rates higher than Group F rivals Paraguay and Slovakia.
As for the Socceroos, it would seem Pim Verbeek has much work to do with only three weeks to go. The large crowd were subdued, while the local press remain thoroughly unconvinced, “heaven help them in South Africa if this is where they’re at three weeks out from the World Cup”, is how the Sydney Morning Herald rather frankly put it.
Can New Zealand beat the odds and qualify from their group? They are 8/1 to go out in the last 16. Will Australia struggle in Group D? They’re 2/5 to go out in the group stage. See the full stage of elimination market.