Thursday, 17 June 2010

Kiwi joy contrasts Aussie gloom

A delight to see New Zealand snatch a late equaliser against Slovakia in their first finals appearance since 1982. Most of the football world were expecting the plucky Kiwis to be the whipping boys of the tournament but it became quite plain quite quickly in this fixture that they were not going to be over-awed - well not by Slovakia at least.

The attitude from the All Whites even before they arrived in South Africa was quite refreshing. Simply, they had already achieved their goal - to make it to the finals. Anything in addition to that would be pure bonus. And indeed, the bonus has already been realised, with their first point ever in the finals.

Compare and contrast the teeth-gnashing over in the Aussie camp. They have set themselves a target of getting to at least the final 16. And such expectations have been amplified and exaggerated by the mainstream media and the much of fan-dom back in Australia. So therefore in light of their stunning failure against Germany such ambitions appear stymied, just 90 playing minutes into the tournament.

Over my lifetime there's been a ebb and flow between the respective fortunes of the Australian and New Zealand national football teams. Traditionally set against each other in World Cup qualifying, the Socceroos had the edge over the All Whites in the 1970s, managing outright qualification in 1974.

Come 1981 and the tables had turned. Australia lost its way principally owing to the brief and erratic reign of football journeyman Rudi Gutendorf. After the godlike Rale Rasic had been the victim of petty politics, Gutendorf was the third in line of distinctly unimpressive Socceroo managers - Brian Green, who was sacked after caught shoplifting, then the unknown Jimmy Shoulder who failed miserably.

Meanwhile over in the Kiwi camp, Poms John Adhsead and Kevin Fallon assembled a solid bunch of amateurs and semi-pros. After a 3-3 draw in New Zealand, the united Kiwis managed a historic, deserved 2-0 win in Sydney over a clearly disunited Australia. Gutendorf was sacked on the spot, and New Zealand progressed to final Asian qualifying, which turned out to be an epic tale. Nearing the end of the phase, having copped a late equaliser in a critical tie in Kuwait, the Kiwis trudged to Saudi Arabia needing a 5-0 away win to equal China's record, 6-0 or better to progress. History records they blitzed their opponents in the first 45 minutes, scoring 5 times, aided at this stage by an emerging Wynton Rufer, yet in the second half couldn't find the net again. Thus a play-off against China was required; a 2-1 win got them to Spain.

The All Whites managed to out-do the Aussies 1974 effort by actually scoring in Spain, but they lost their three games (the Aussies had eked out a point against Chile).

From 1986 onwards however, the Aussies were back on top, and apart from an Oceania Nations Cup win in 2002, the Kiwis ambitions were continually blocked by their "West Island" neighbours. This all changed for 2010 qualifying with their path suddenly laid clear with the Aussie defection to Asia.

What the rest of the tournament will bring for Kiwis isn't clear. They will be hoping to avoid embarrassment. They've made a very good start in that regard.

1 comment:

Julian said...

I can't help but compare the Kiwi's unity with Australia's all-to-easy fall into "it's somebody else's fault" (and yes I'm Australian and a fan of most of the Australian players).
I remember at the last World Cup seemingly well-founded talk that Hiddink (may his name be blessed), had to put a few prima donna players back in their box; obviously Pim ain't the manager Gus was, but let's hope the players realise that if they're to get anywhere, they have to believe in their manager for the next few weeks.