New Zealand have only qualified for the FIFA World Cup once before – and that was 28 years ago. However, having fought so hard to qualify this year, it’s unlikely that the team will be happy to just turn up and play. However, progression from group stages seems unlikely for a nation better known for its feats on the rugby pitch. New Zealand’s qualification came at the expense of Bahrain earlier this year.
To New Zealanders of a certain age, Ricki Herbert is a living legend. Not only was he the engine behind the country’s first ever World Cup qualification (Spain 1982) as a player, but he masterminded their 2010 World Cup qualification. Defeat in South Africa will do nothing to tarnish his reputation, and if the Kiwis were to progress into the last 16 his name would be mentioned in the same breath as Jonah Lomu by Kiwi sport fans.
Player to watch
After being one of the few shining lights in an otherwise dour season for Premiership team Blackburn Rovers, Nelsen will lead his side by example. For many fans, his will be the only familiar name in a team of relative unknowns.
We’re on the ball
World Cup appearances: 1
Previous best: Group stages, 1982
Odds of winning: 2,000/1
Strange but true: The New Zealand football team don’t perform the Hakka, which is a shame – the sight of them unleashing that dance on a team of preening Italians would have been worth the flight to South Africa alone
Fixtures: Slovakia, June 15, 3.30pm, Rustenburg Italy, June 20, 6pm, Nelspruit Paraguay, June 24, 6pm, Polokwane