Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Zealand - Any Real Chance...?

All whites coach Ricki Herbert gets close to the FIFA World Cup Trophy on its one day visit to Auckland today. Photo / NZPA
If you look at the current betting for the World Cup in South Africa this year, only North Korea has a less of a chance than New Zealand of making it beyond the group stages. But as any football fan worth his salt will tell you, every dog has his day, and this is especially true in a competition where a bad performance against a so-called minnow could end a teams dreams of progression, and you don't need to go too far back to find the evidence.

Who could forget Senegal beating of the World Champions in the opening game in Seoul, or South Korea knocking out Italy both in 2002. Cameroon pulled one over on Argentina in 1990 and the Belgians did the same to the hapless Argies 8 years earlier. Anything can happen on the day, history and past performance can count for nothing, and therefore New Zealand have as good a chance as any of causing an upset this time around.

So why should you consider New Zealand to pull off a giant killing performance at this years tournament..? Well lets start at the top with the All Whites management team. Ricky Herbert is one of only a very small and elite group of ex-players to both play in a world cup and then manage their nation side through qualification to the World Cup stage. Whilst no-one would compare Herbert to Maradonna, especially on the pitch, but as a manager he has a wealth of experience and probably a better record of managing at the top level. Where Herbert brings most value to his team will be his realistic understanding of the current crop of players and their capabilities, and his 30 years of experience as a defensive player to draw on.

The reality is that for New Zealand to progress beyond the group stages, Herbert will need to rely on his teams defensive strengths to stifle and frustrate the supposed better opposition, and look to grab a breakaway goal on the counter.

The good news is that at the core of the NZ team is a solid defensive unit, led by Blackburn Rovers experienced centre back, Ryan Nelsen, who will do double duty as captain during the tournament. He will be playing alongside what some may see as just journeyman defenders, but what they lack in quality will be made up for in organisation, cohesion and passion.

Where the All Whites have previously struggled is in the midfield, as the Kiwi Messi or Fabregas has yet to be found, (or even born maybe..?) Whilst there are some up-and-coming midfield players, such as Leo Bertos & Tim Brown, they could be made to look somewhat mediocre against the stars of Italy, or even Slovakia & Paraguay. Maintaining possession in the midfield will be a serious problem for the relatively inexperienced Kiwi team, which will result in poor link-up play with the strikers.

Having said that, anyone who overlooks the likes of Shane Smeltz, Chris Woods, or Rory Fallon, being able to pop up and capitalise on those rare opportunities in front of goal, will find themselves quickly punished for their mistake.

New Zealand's best goal-scoring chances will come from crosses, corners and free-kicks, as the front players are big, strong, and excellent in the air. Rory Fallon proved this with his unstoppable bullet header against Bahrain in the game that took the All Whites to the World Cup finals. If Leo Bertos can provide any level of supply from the wing, then don't be surprised to see New Zealand to grab a surprise headed goal.

Realistically, just qualifying for the finals is as big as winning the World Cup for New Zealand, and the target of qualifying for the Round of 16 is an even bigger ask. But remember in the group stage, a good win over Slovakia, a draw against Paraguay, a loss to Italy, and a handful of goals, might just be enough to progress to the next round.

Worth a tenner...?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting Closer....

With less than a month to go before Fiona & I hitch a lift on a plane bound for Johannesburg, everything is finally in place, arranged, and paid for. All we need now is a heap of spending money and we'll be ready to go.

All our fights out of Christchurch have been re-checked and confirmed, seat positions chosen, meals allocated, and Red Carpet lounge access sorted out. Our Namibian Safari is booked and paid for and we know that we will be travelling with only a handful of other intrepid travellers during this exciting part of our trip.

Yates has his Business class flights booked to get him to Johannesburg, via Frankfurt, and the short hop from there down to Cape Town, where we will meet him on the 6th June. Our apartment in Cape Town and our Lodge outside Pretoria have all been confirmed and the final payments made.

Both Yates & I have received our ticket confirmation packages for the 14 games we have tickets for, that we require to get our hands on the actual match tickets once we get to South Africa. I have printed out all the references, confirmations, maps, and other assorted emails and they now sit in my "special folder", just sitting there ready to go.

I have my new TomTom GPS unit ready to download the World Cup edition of the South Africa map, developed especially for foreign visitors, with POI's for the Stadiums, car parking and Fan Parks, we don't want to get lost now. And I have my laptop primed and ready and my iPod packed to the brim with music & movies.

Finally I have sorted out our Singapore stop-over holiday for the return leg of the trip, and we are booked into the Traders Hotel for 5 days of rest and relaxation, as we wind down and depressurise from the tension and excitement of the conclusion of the World Cup Finals.... Hopefully by then, we'll be laying by the pool and reflecting on a glorious World Cup Win for England....!!

As I said at the beginning, all we need is to finish up at work, tidy up the house, throw a few things into the backpack, and head for the airport... but we still have over 3 weeks left to go... DOH...!!!

Time goes by so slowly when you have been waiting so long....

Monday, April 12, 2010

North to Polokwane

Our Games:
  • M42 - Thursday 24th June - 16:00 - Paraguay vs New Zealand

Name: Peter Mokaba Stadium
Year completed: 2010
Cost: US$154,000,000
Capacity: 46,000
Trivia: The design is inspired by the iconic Baobab tree. The stadium will house 5,000 VIPs

The Peter Mokaba Stadium, named after a late local anti-apartheid campaigner and government minister, is an attractive 46,000-seater arena built in Polokwane especially for the World Cup. Adjacent to the old Mokoba arena - which held only 18,000 fans - the ground is 5km south of the city centre along Dorp Street. Shuttle buses will offer services between the stadium and downtown.

Our Local Stadium

Our Games:
• M55 - Tue 29th June - 16:00 - 1F v 2E (6)

Name: Loftus Versfeld Stadium
Year completed: 1906 (renovated 2008-09)
Cost: US$12,000,000 (estimated)
Capacity: 50,000
Trivia: The stadium hosted matches during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The first stand, accommodating 2,000 spectators, was erected in 1923

Located in the east of Pretoria, close to the university, will be the stage for the World Cup 2010 cut and thrust, hosting five group matches and one second round fixture. A ground with a British feel, the 50,000 capacity arena did not require a major structural overhaul, just upgraded floodlights, a new roof on the East Stand and some gloss and polish.

Friday, April 2, 2010

So whats in Rustenburg...?

Our Games:
• M24 - Sat 19th June - 13:30 - Ghana vs Australia
• M50 - Sat 26th June - 20:30 - 1C v 2D (3)

Name: Royal Bafokeng Stadium
Year completed: 1999
Cost: US$48,000,000 (renovation)
Capacity: 42,000
Trivia: The original construction was completely funded by the Royal Bafokeng community, who in 1999 won the legal right to 20% of the income from platinum mined on their land

The Royal Bafokeng Stadium, the stage for five group games and a second-round tie, is named after its owners, the prominent local tribe, and is sited in Phokeng, approximately 15km north-west of town en route to Sun City. The ground has undergone a $48 million makeover for the tournament, an upgrade involving an enlarged main stand and new cantilever roof, floodlights and scoreboard.