Star Player (Caps/Goals): Ryan Nelson (39/6)
Manager: Ricki Herbert
Best W/C Performance: Group Stage (1982)
From the nation best known for the All Blacks rugby side comes the less heralded All Whites football team. New Zealand will be the second outfit to take on Italy in South Africa and will be hoping to give a much better account of themselves than their countrymen did in Spain in 1982.
New Zealand are very much the underdogs at this summer’s showpiece. At 78th in the world, only Korea DPR and hosts South Africa are ranked lower in the FIFA rankings coming into the tournament. While the rankings obviously do not dictate how well a team will perform, it is safe to say that New Zealand are not considered the third worst side in the competition for nothing.
However, in beating Bahrain 1-0 on aggregate to qualify, the All Whites defeated a team ranked ten places higher than them. This is, in fact, a New Zealand side on the up. Having fallen to a low of 156th in 2007, they have clawed their way back up the table and have fought to become a credible side again. Qualification for the World Cup, then, appears a fitting reward for such improvement.
The side is lead by Blackburn Rovers defender and All Whites captain Ryan Nelson. An imposing, powerful central defender, Nelson has enjoyed a strong season with Blackburn and will look to carry his form into the World Cup. He will need to be at his very best if New Zealand are to have any chance at the tournament, though, as their squad is sorely lacking in quality aside from their captain.
Responsible for steadying the ship alongside Nelson will be midfielder Simon Elliott and defender Ivan Vicelich. With 127 caps between them, they provide invaluable experience to a side lacking in that department. Forwards Chris Killen and Shane Smeltz have both scored goals at international level but neither will strike fear into the hearts of the likes of Fabio Cannavaro in the Italian defence.
The All White’s World Cup record is alarmingly poor with three losses from three games at a collective score of 12-2. In their three appearances at the Confederations Cup they have fared marginally better, managing a solitary point from a 0-0 draw with Iraq in June 2009.
Italy ought to simply outclass New Zealand in every capacity and an upset seems virtually impossible. It could prove to be a long, unpleasant 90 minutes against current holders Italy. Perhaps the best the All Whites can hope for is to avoid a drubbing at the hands of the Azzurri and try to improve on their record of three games, three defeats against either Paraguay or Slovakia. But this World Cup could prove to be a bridge to far once again for the men from New Zealand.