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May 17, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Countdown to the World Cup: All Whites’ Chances look Slim

In 2006, Eva Standmann was on her way to the Munich Stadium for the FIFA World Cup football match between Australia and Brazil. Out of nowhere a thief mugged Standmann, snatching her handbag and, as luck would have it, a ticket to the game as well. That’s about as far as his luck went, however. The thief took the victim’s place in the stadium where he was met by her waiting husband Berndt, who promptly notified security.

Four years on, South Africa is preparing to host the planet’s biggest sporting event, the first time an African nation has done so. Thirty-two teams featuring the best players from across the globe will descend on the host nation to battle it out for football’s greatest prize. Even Vic Uni has paid homage to the tournament by scheduling its mid-year exam period to coincide with the World Cup (the three-hour examinations will be perfect intermissions for football-watching marathons). New Zealand will be represented for the first time in 28 years after Ricki Herbert guided the All Whites to an historic two-legged win over Bahrain in the final qualifying phase. However, like that unlucky thief from Munich, the All Whites may struggle to maintain their place among the elite when play kicks off.

Resplendent in their environmentally friendly recycled polyester kits (each one produced from up to eight recycled plastic bottles), the All Whites could be setting themselves up for a barrage of “rubbish!” newspaper headline puns if failure transpires. While the team captured the hearts of a nation with a gritty display in Wellington on 14 November last year, the monumental occasion that awaits them may prove to be a step too far. In facing Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, the All Whites will have to deal with a glittering array of international talent, a far cry for most of the A-League regulars.

Whatever the results for the Kiwis in South Africa, it is crucial for New Zealand Football to continue generating the type of interest in Wellington and throughout the country that has seen rugby play second fiddle for the past few months. If a handful of the players can sell themselves in football’s ultimate shop window then, as striker Rory Fallon noted, it could be “life changing” not only for them, but the future of the game in New Zealand.

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