Archive for July 1st, 2010

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.