As a South African, I take immense pride in the fact that the World Cup is coming to my country next year. Over the past 4 years, I have seen my nation’s hard work materialize. I look at the stadiums we have built, and I get goose bumps knowing that they are the very best in the world. All I wish for now is that it’s an amazing tournament, a spectacle filled with beautiful football and emotion. So when it’s over, the world can say: Africa has delivered.
It has really pleased me that New Zealand has qualified. This will be their second finals, the first was in 1982 in Spain. After watching them here at the Confederation’s Cup in June, I have come to respect them. They are definatley not one of the best teams in the world, they do not have “star power” in their squad. I do not follow their domestic league. I barely knew half their players. Yet, while in South Africa they played their hearts out and won over the public. Who can forget their celebrations when they held Iraq to a goal less draw? Had you not known better, you would’ve thought that they had won the tournament! But that was the first time they managed a point in all FIFA tournaments. It’s that kind of passion that I hope to see from teams next year. Celebrating every win, every goal, every clean sheet.
Striker Rory Falllon was the hero of qualifying as he scored the only goal of the second leg of the play-off against Bahrain, and with the first leg a draw, this was enough. With Oceania only designated “0.5 spots” in the finals, NZ had to win the Oceania group, and play the 5th placed Asian team. It was a high mountain to climb, but the “All Whites” did it.
NZ Coach Ricki Herbert: “This group of players has given everything to achieve this dream, everything over the last four years,”
Skipper Ryan Nelson, who plies his trade in England for Blackburn Rovers, thanked the crowd:
“The crowd was incredible and I don’t know if we could have won it without them”
35,100 fans turned up in Wellington to support their team. This is said to be a record for a football match in New Zealand.
I look forward to seeing New Zealand next year. I hope they manage to notch up their first win in FIFA tournaments. But till then, all attention is on the remainder of the qualifiers.