Guest Post : Why New Zealand Are Top

My new best friend Matty posted this as a comment, but frankly it’s way too articulate and knowledgeable to simply linger there in the boondocks of commentary. Plus as this is a non-World Cup day it does us all good to reflect on New Zealand’s World Cup success at the expense of the useless, technically incompetent and generally shocking Engerland team performance (although I would suggest that a two way knockout tie against Bahrain to qualify for the World Cup is one every single European, South, Central and Mainstream Amerian, African and Asian team would take right now for Brazil 2014) .

You’ve criticised the NZ football team for being defensively-minded and for their players being signed to what you perceive as defensive and/or substandard English teams. You’ve also deemed the tactics employed by New Zealand as aggressive and overly-physical, boring and uninventive. Finally you’ve cast aspersions as to the inclusion of New Zealand in the tournament as the qualifiers from the Oceania group. I shall deal with these one by one in the hope that you realise where you’re going wrong here.

Firstly, I’m not sure what makes the vast majority of English football enthusiasts seem to automatically presume that, unless you’re signed to a top-six EPL club for big money, you’re a worthless player without any talent or ability, with exceptions allowed for players at other big foreign clubs like Real, Barca, Bayern, AC Milano etc. Ridiculous. Nobody outside England has any doubt about the EPL being little more than a money-go-round with football merely as the means to the end of a clique of dodgy rich people washing their money. Who gives a fuck who Smeltz played for when he was in England? Do you really think the footballing world revolves around the subjective quality of football clubs in England? Who Smeltz played for once upon a time is irrelevant to the fact that he gives 100% of his body and soul when he plays for his country, which is more than can be said for any England player since the days of Gascoine and Lineker. I shouldn’t point out that Smeltz scored more goals at the finals than Wayne Rooney, but I just did, so deal with it! As for Ryan Nelsen, he’s employed by Blackburn Rovers to do a job, which he does very well. Clumpy he may be (by your subjective estimation), but check Blackburn’s defensive record in the EPL season just gone, paying attention to the difference between games when Nelsen did and didn’t play. Furthermore, with the cumbersome, arrogant and ponderous Terry and Upson onboard, it’s a bit rich for an England supporter to knock other teams for their clumsy and, by implication inept, defence. When you are able to keep your own house in order, you may have a (limited) moral justification for having a go at others. Until then, you’d do better to be more realistic and reflective of the woeful tactical underperformance of the England team.

This last point also applies to my second bone of contention, which is the accusation that NZ were boring. I watched NZ v Slovakia with a bunch of expat Kiwis here in Sydney where I’m currently on holiday, and while the game was pretty dull, the last 30 seconds more than made up for it. That was the best finish to any game in the whole tournament and had a fantastic effect on both teams in the match. Both Slovakia and NZ used it as a motivation to go on and exceed expectations, to the detriment of Italy in both cases. NZ v Italy was an utterly absorbing and gripping match, mainly of course because of the Itlians rather than the NZers, but I cannot understand why you would criticise a team who, against the odds, managed to keep the world champions goalless in open play for 90 minutes. The object is to prevent the other team from scoring, not to look flash so you can get your own Castrol TV spot. A failure to understand this is, I fear, largely at the root of England’s failure to achieve what they are capable of in big tournaments. Moreover, if the NZ (and Australian) style of football involves physical presence and intimidation, the use of their players’ superior height, speed and fitness and a heavy reliance on teamwork, set pieces and man-marking, then that would indicate merely that they have a different style of play. It is often noted that it seems difficult for the English to accept other styles of play in sports which they originally codified, but objectively speaking there is no rule in football against being a big bugger who likes to get in the way. If your national team have difficulty dealing with that tactic, then it’s obviously working, hence the likelihood that NZ will continue to employ it, and one day it will be employed to beat England, at which point England may choose to adopt it themselves to make up for the obvious and well documented defensive failings to which they seem to be prone at the moment.

Finally, the most misguided part of your blog post relates to old chestnut of how NZ don’t deserve to be at the World Cup finals. I’ve started keeping tabs on the numbers of English and other European people who I have successfully challenged on this point and brought around to the more objective analysis which suggests that NZ definitely earned and deserved their place, and I hope that I will be able to chalk you up as another convert to reason and logic.

Firstly, how many games did England have to play in order to qualify? NZ only had to play 11 games in order to qualify for the 2010 finals, but in the past the team has had to play up to 25 games, two of them against Australia, topped off by a play-off against one of either Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia and even, on one occasion, Argentina. Furthermore, the NZ management generally doesn’t have its best players available for qualifying as they tend to play in Europe and it is deemed too expensive and troublesome to player, club and country to fly them to the opposite side of the world for one or two games against the likes of Fiji and the Solomon Islands and then back again. So the team that constests the playoff is not the team that constested the bulk of qualifying matches and this makes it much harder tactically, particularly given NZ’s style of play.

To make it to the 2010 finals, NZ had to beat Bahrain in a two-leg play-off, which Bahrain had to beet the Saudis to reach. NZ managed to win, albeit with a single goal in the 86th minute of the second match. You can see a tactical pattern forming here. So by suggesting that NZ had no right to be at the finals would be to suggest that Bahrain, or even Saudi Arabia or Iran or Japan or South Korea or any other team that might qualify fifth in Asia also has no right to be at the finals. That is simply arrogant and leads to the inevitable question: where do you establish the cut-off point for teams who don’t deserve to be at the finals? Perhaps we could say that there are too many European teams, based on the fact that a high proprtion of them did quite badly: France, Italy, Greece, Denmark. Taking this even further, the argument would suggest that only two teams from Africa should qualify, and that there should by eight or even ten qualifiers from South America. NZ definitely deserved to be at the finals and showed that by remaining unbeaten in their group, something which I notice very few teams managed in 2010.

I’ve heard the one about how football is a ‘world game’, well Oceania is the second largest qualifying group by geographic area, even without Australia, who have defected to the Asian qualifying group because they were sick of losing to NZ in the playoff to earn the right to progress to the final playoff, and has the second highest number of individual countries after Africa. So if you think that only European and South American teams deserve to be at the finals, then you’ll have to avoid any mention or suggestion of football being a world game until you realise that you’re basically wrong and that Oceania definitely deserves a place at the finals, particularly keeping in mind that the best team in Oceania (clearly NZ)still has to play the fifth-placed Asian, or often South American, team to progress. The whole point of the it being the WORLD Cup is that the best teams from each region compete, not just the best teams in the world according to rankings or the subjective analysis of biased fans in Europe. That is a silly and arrogant assumption which only seems prevalent in Western Europe for some reason, I wonder why?

But in your defence, you would be right if you assumed that success in football is largely restricted to North and South America and (Mainly Western and Central) Europe. But that would miss the point; it’s not all about success. It’s about participation. That was supposed to be the message of the ‘African’ World Cup [please note the absence of any African sponsors or ‘partners’ as it seems they’re now called], I’m gratified to see that it seems to have passed you by. Now that NZ has been knocked out you’ve missed an opportunity to show support for a team who were dismissed as ‘also-rans’ by the European footballing press, particularly Corriere Della Sporta, which had some particularly unkind comments about the All Whites before the NZ v Italy match, but who have proved themselves to be earnest and honest strugglers who put effort and commitment ahead of vanity and ego to encapsulate and enunciate the spirit of sport and human physical endeavour far more clearly than the sulky, overindulged and arrogant superstars of France, Italy and, regrettably, even England.

The problems with the English national team stem not from a lack of skill, but from a bad attitude. NZ has the attitude, but they lack the skill. Skills can be taught by a coach. Changes in attitude can only come from within, and as long as your are paying intellectually and morally challenged overgrown teenagers obscene amounts of dough to do very little without much in the way of real incentive or reproach bar vilification in the red-top press, all the while worshipping them as quasi-religious idols, your national team has no hope of redemption in this respect. So I look forward to the day, which is inevitably coming, when NZ overtakes England in the football world rankings, as the English excuses for this will be manna for my vituperative ramblings.

What We Learned From Group F Eliminators

The Torture of Human Endurance Italy 2 – 3 Slovakia

They’re still at it. Day 3. The awesome Mahut and Isner are still going. 68 all. And I know this beause I was forced to switch channels and sports because ITV’s spastic half-time drivel is just so unremittingly tedious you have to leave. Anyway, they illustrate the positive power of sport in a way that nothing in the World Cup, this overblown spectacle presided over by grovelling arch-toad Sepp Blatter, has come close to.

The first thing to note is why on earth the Group F eliminators should be played before the Group E ones. Surely that’s morally incomprehensible. I blame FIFA. The second thing to note is that we are in the presence of not one but two sets of imposters. Italy, for instance, bear no resemblance to the team that won the World Cup in 2006, sure there’s the requisite amount of diving, cheating, feigning and general Italian tomfoolery, but no sign of the immaculate defending of Canavaro or the complete control of Pierlo, even though both of them appeared on the field. Ultimately, they just couldn’t rouse themselves out of the torpor that saw them draw with both Paraguay and New Zealand.

The other set of even more improbable imposters was the team pretending to be Slovakia. Now previously we may have given the impression that Slovakia was a made up country where all the stupid people in Czechoslovakia were conned into going which featured none of the benefits and all of the defects of that country; that its football squad was full of 23 utter incompetents led by the thoroughly useless Hamzik, who lacks any sense of control, spatial understanding, positional ability or general footballing skill; that the main thing they deserved was to be horsewhipped naked through town accompanied by the kind of bell-ringing that is normally reserved for residents of the nearest leper colony. So where have they hidden that team today? Even more spectacular than the transformation that overcame the Engerland team yesterday was the revelation that was Slovakia. Crisp passing, good movement off the ball and exciting, attacking play. You wondered why they apparently hadn’t bothered to do this against, say, the mighty New Zealand, who on the evidence of this should have been utterly pummelled. Italy seemed to have no answer to them until it was beyond too late and they then started with all the old Italian favourites, a desperately scrambled goal, a lot of jostling and bashing about and general Italian cheatery (which was matched it has to be said by some pretty blatent Slovak cheatidge), all to no avail. Excellent work. Slovakia go into the easy side of the draw, alongside the Yanks, Mexicans, Uruguayans and Ghanaians, so there’s every danger they could go even further. Italy, on the other hand, take the economy flights home.

Meanwhile Isner and Mahut have finished their war of endurance with Isner winning 70 – 68.  Way to go guys. One suspects Mahut will go back to France for some kind of presidential ovation and general award. Maybe he’ll get to man the guillotine when it deals with the shitty residue of the French football team. Isner meanwhile has got it all to do again as he moves into the second round.

Paraguay 0 – 0 New Zealand

So plucky New Zealand, you scored two goals, played two matches so astonishingly tedious that they were painful to watch and exemplified the kind of pub level ‘committment’ football that we are trying to eradicate in the civilized world. OK that’s as many goals and tedious games as Engerland, but hey, we can pass it around a bit when we really, really have to and have nicer kit. Paraguay play well and probably didn’t have to exert themselves too much here, knowing that there was nothing they could do to avoid topping the Group and thus getting into the shitty end of the draw.

So Bye-Bye Italy And New Zealand

At least New Zealand are certain to qualify for the next World Cup.

42 Down 22 To Go 19 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Italy vs New Zealand (1-1)

Laugh, We Nearly Cried

Now it’s palpably obvious that New Zealand are a rubbish team, whose inclusion in the World Cup is simply part of a plot by Sepp Blatter to bring in all one million of the Pacific Islands into the ‘Football Family’ thereby gaining him enough votes to be President for life. However, it is clear that as they have now scored more goals and have the same number of points as Engerland, they are a world force to be reckoned with, an obviously welcome addition to the international football fabric. How we laughed when New Zealand, who have a superior FIFA ranking to the cheeky North Koreans it must be said, scored against the haughty Italians in the first few minutes.

Same Old, Same Old

Now the limitations of New Zealand are the limitations of a classic Sam Allerdyce team, like Blackburn Rovers, whose clumpy defender Ryan Nelson stars for the All Whites (alongside former Halifax Town luminary Shane Smeltz), namely sub-Mourinho Discipline defending, two banks of four cloggers who think that physical intimidation and hard tackling are any substitute for skill or class. However, the reality is that teams who want to be great have to find ways of getting around this dour defensive mindset. Italy, like Engerland are crammed full of old favourites, the only difference being that the Italian old boys have a nice pile of medals from the tournaments they have won. However, like Engerland, they don’t seem to have any idea of how to overcome this kind of robust, nay tedious football, and found themselves utterly perplexed at the unsympathetic Kiwis and their thoroughly unsporting behaviour. Last match they managed to respond to the physical game that Paraguay brought, albeit to come from behind and secure a draw, and, yes, the same tactics (bring on Calamari-boy, get some extra zip and drive into the game) did deliver similar results (coming from behind to secure a draw), but you really have to expect more from the reigning World Champions. With Paraguay winning and Italy facing the mighty Slovakia, who will have to win to have any chance of going forward, the future for Italy looks anything but secure.

Meanwhile, The First Team To Implode Is…

We stated in our initial World Cup piece that there were two key questions we needed answers to, Would the French do worse than in 2002 and which team would be the first to implode. Now our predictions for the second was either Cameroon or France. Following the fallout from their rubbish performance against Mexico, the French have, officially, become the first team to fully implode, what with lovely Nicholas Anelka being sent home for calling his coach a bit of a ‘c**t’. It’s hard to know what is the most difficult element to bear, the squad’s refusal to train as a gesture of support, or their forcing Domenech to read their statement criticising the French Football Association to the press. In any case it’s the funniest footballing implosion since the Engerland squad threatened to go on strike following Dopey Rio’s failure to attend a dope test. France take on hosts South Africa on Tuesday and you have to wonder how bothered they are going to be.

28 Down 36 To Go 31 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From New Zealand vs Slovakia

You Might As Well Qualify For The World Cup By Drawing Lots

How these two dogs managed to qualify is a fucking mystery. I mean we’re all aware that the entire Oceana federation consists of New Zealand, some rocks with penguins attached and the sort of island republics that old American Ambassadors dream of being sent to for the scuba diving. With Oztralia moving to the Asia group, there is almost negative competition for the sole World Cup Spot with rugby scorelines like 50 – 0 being regular occurances.  Slovakia have it harder coming from Europe, but they seem to have qualified with little skill and no ambition. They should be aiming to give the New Zealanders a right good kicking, instead they looked like they were playing for a draw. Now aside from letting the bloody kiwis off, this stunning lack of ambition is an insult to all the other teams who battled their way through umpteen qualification games only to be ruled too  useless to participate (hands up Scotland, Wales, Russia, Lichtenstein, Albania, Andorra and Scotland again). They too would like to have been here and, you suspect, would have put up a bit more of a fight.  These two can book the first planes home now.

Virgin Media Are Fundamentally Useless

You would have thought a monopoly provider of cable TV, who has in its various incarnations, had the best part of 30 years to sort out digital cable TV, would have got it vaguely right by now. Not Virgin Media, who not only inherited Telewaste and NTL’s garbage quality infrastructure, but have added to it with a degree of non-service that is quite astonishing. Their much vaunted V+ box, not only has space for a spastic maximum 10 or so hours of HD quality TV, but it somehow can’t seem to record programmes that are the ‘first of the day’. That kind of technical incompetance is matched only by their crass and useless customer service. When presented with rational points, their ‘customer helpers’ respond by cutting you off and playing loud and obnoxious music at you. They are the most useless service company currently in operation in the UK and with competition from banks, mobile phone companies and the utility providers among others, that is fucking saying something.

Sorry, Was There A Scoreline?

Who fucking cares. These two suck.

12 Down 52 To Go