Oceania is undoubtedly the easiest confederation in which to qualify for the World Cup. After failing to qualify four years ago, New Zealand won their first five games in convincing fashion, then tied one and won another match against Bahrain to collect their bid to South Africa.
Country: New Zealand
Team: The All Whites
Colors: White and black
New Zealand is a dominating team whose speed, power and Maori war chant are designed to intimidate opponents. The country’s richest tradition is upheld by its rugby team, the All Blacks, who have an impressive record in international competition. With the All Whites, it’s a different story. This is their first appearance on the world stage since 1982.
Although their voyage to the tournament was relatively smooth, New Zealand might not sail quite so easily out of their group. With a little luck, though, the Kiwis will catch teams sleeping, relying on their offense to advance.
Key Players: Ivan Vicelich, Simon Elliott and Shane Smeltz
Vicelich, who has the most caps for the All Whites, will have his hands full defending against better teams.
Elliott, the Kiwis’ best midfielder, will help on defense and prevent opponents from running up the score. He’ll also try to connect some long crosses up to his three-man striking team.
At the offensive end, Smeltz, the Oceania Player of the Year, is a serious aerial threat who can score from any distance.
Key Matchup: New Zealand vs. Slovakia
Two or three goals can make the trip to South Africa worthwhile for the Kiwis and spell disaster for Slovakia. But European strength should trump Oceania speed in this matchup.
The All Whites are pleased to have been invited to the dance. They will appreciate their time in South Africa, enjoying some sightseeing on days off. But the odds against their winning even one game are high.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown