Off to South Africa along the All White road

by Tim Ivins

World Cup Football provides me with some of the strongest emotions I’ve experienced as a sports fan. It’s almost like the golden path in the Wizard of Oz, countries play-off for the right to play in the greatest show of all. The show which causes me to shift my body clock to local time. In 2006, I was waking when the locals were, eating when the locals were and sleeping when the locals were. 64 games and I was somehow able to watch 56.

 

That fateful night in Sydney against Uruguay remains the greatest moment of my life, standing on my chair screaming my lungs out, listening to the booing of the crowd during the Uruguayan anthem, we only knew it was finished when the singer stepped off of the stage. The tension, the pressure, the joy when John Aloisi nailed the final penalty. I will never forget it, nor hugging the 70 year old greengrocer next to me who had immigrated from Italy in 1975, both of us crying our eyes out. He had been waiting longer than I had.

 

Fast forward to 2009 and with joy and trepidation I headed to the Charles Dickens Tavern to watch footballing minnows New Zealand play Bahrain for the right to travel to South Africa next year. Moving within the tavern was difficult, ordering a beer impossible as it seemed that every New Zealander in Melbourne was crammed into this small space. Bahrain had an early chance as the New Zealand defence seemed uncertain and porous but Bahrain failed to exploit this uncertainty, resorting to long ball launches rather than the crisp passing that they displayed early in the match. The tension ratchets higher and higher in the tavern as the All Whites go closer and closer to goal. Leo Bertos is impressive in dead ball situations and a volley by Chris Killen from outside the box rattles the cross bar. Bahrain’s keeper freakishly turns away a header from Fallon with his left hand as his body heads in the opposite direction as the pressure rises.

 

The crowd can sense a goal and in the 43rd minute Bahrain concede another corner. I lean across to my mate and say “I’ve got a good feeling about this”. He barely finishes saying “I hope so” when Rory Fallon rises above the defender to head the ball past the stricken goalkeeper who cannot repeat his freakish save of earlier. The tavern erupts, New Zealand have a 1-0 lead at the half and if the defence can hold out, the All Whites are through to their first world cup since 1982.

 

The second half sees roles reversed; it seems as if each team has switched jerseys. Bahrain are passing fluently as New Zealand stay well back in defence attempting to hold the lead. Bahrain get several shots off as the defence is continually stretched and the inevitable occurs in the 50th minute when Tony Lochheed fouls Abdulla Ismaeel Omar. Rightly, the referee had no hesitation in pointing the spot. The tavern was hushed as Sayed Mohamed Adnan lined up his shot. A team mate whispers in his ear but whatever he said unnerved the striker as a poor kick saw Mark Paston save the penalty. With the lead retained the crowd erupting so loudly that I am pretty sure the paint was stripped from the walls.

 

The final 20 minutes saw New Zealand retain ascendancy as they returned to the passing game of the first half and Shane Smeltz butchered two clear chances to put the game out of Bahrain’s reach. Not that it mattered, New Zealand had won and are heading to South Africa. I looked on as two strangers were hugging and crying. A smile crossed my face. I’ve been there before.

Comments

  1. Richard E. Jones says:

    THIS is written tongue in cheek, right Tim !!
    Don’t you remember Roy and HG’s winter Olympics chat and round-up TV show a few years back when our Stephen Bradbury stayed upright and won the speed skating gold medal.
    Remember Roy Slavin intoning: “Medal count — gold medals: Australia one, New Zealand nil.”
    The sweetest moments in sport (apart from Geelong winning the grannie) arrive when Australia downs the Kiwis.
    In anything !!
    This year’s Champions Trophy cricket final in Saffieland was a prime example. Australia 1st, NZ 2nd.

    What sweet joy it would be if the Socceroos and the All Whites are drawn in the same World Cup group next year. And Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Co. slaughter the half-baked sods.

  2. Martin Reeves says:

    Nice piece Tim, I had the same feelings on the weekend as I remembered back to that night in Sydney in 05. I was on the second tier, on the edge of my seat for the full 90mins, plus added time and penalty shootout. The things I remember from that night include the intense, natural high I experienced, and hugging and high-fiving John Howard (from All-Saints, not the PM), sitting in my row. Hands down, my most memorable sporting moment.

    Good luck to the Kiwis, I wish them well.

  3. Thanks Martin,
    I love hearing stories like that. It’s amazing to hear what people were doing in events like this – John Howard, wow, I didn’t pick him as a Football fan.

    Richard, I do remember all those things and it’s strange. Normally I am happy to see New Zealand lose, but not this time. Maybe it was watching Bahrain against us rolling on the ground playing up frees, maybe it was the prospect of a potential world cup matchup against them, or maybe just maybe it was the $2.10 I got at the bookies on New Zealand but for some strange reason I wanted them to win!

  4. Richard E. Jones says:

    NO such luck concerning the World Cup draw, it would seem.
    My London-born son-in-law and his mates tell me there’s no chance the Aussies and Kiwis will be in the same group of 4 when the draw for the 32 competing countries is made next month.
    Something to do with the seedings, I’m reliably informed.

    Pity. Of course the Aussies are now ranked No. 14 in the world. You’d have to think that it’s a considerably higher ranking than the All Whites.

  5. Correct Richard, the seedings haven’t been finalised but it is likely that the first pot is a combination of world ranking and past 3 world cup performances. This will be the only time seedings matter. Pot 2 is likely to consist of the remaining European teams, Pot 3 will be AFC + CONCACAF + Oceania and Pot 4 CAF + CONMEBOL. This means the pots will line up as follows:

    Pot 1 (seeded teams): Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain

    Pot 2 (rest of UEFA): Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

    Pot 3 (AFC + OFC + CONCACAF): Australia, Honduras, Japan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, USA

    Pot 4 (CAF + rest of CONMEBOL): Algeria, Cameroon, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Paraguay, Uruguay

    A random draw was done at http://www.football-rankings.info/2009/11/2010-world-cup-seeding-update-20.html which produced the following groups:

    Group A: South Africa, Serbia, USA, Uruguay
    Group B: Argentina, Slovakia, Australia, Ghana
    Group C: England, Portugal, Mexico, Paraguay
    Group D: Brazil, Netherlands, Honduras, Cameroon
    Group E: France, Greece, Korea Republic, Nigeria
    Group F: Italy, Denmark, Japan, Chile
    Group G: Spain, Slovenia, New Zealand, Algeria
    Group H: Germany, Switzerland, Korea DPR, Côte d’Ivoire

    I repeated the process only I seperated Pot 4 for the first two draws to ensure no two African teams nor 2 South American teams were drawn together as FIFA Don’t like teams from the same region in the same group unless they are European. As a result my draw is:

    Group A: South Africa, Slovenia, Australia, Paraguay
    Group B: Germany, Denmark, Honduras, Cameroon
    Group C: Argentina, Netherlands, New Zealand, Ghana
    Group D: France, Serbia, South Korea, Algeria
    Group E: Spain, Slovakia, North Korea, Ivory Coast
    Group F: Italy, Greece, Mexico, Chile
    Group G: England, Switzerland, USA, Uruguay
    Group H: Brazil, Portugal, Japan, Nigeria

    Under my draw Australia get what looks like a soft draw but we’d face 3 tricky opponents and if we get out of the group would face Germany or possibly Denmark in the Round of 16. There’s some pretty salivating matchups in this draw:

    Argentina v Netherlands
    Spain v Ivory Coast
    France v Algeria
    Brazil v Portugal

    Things would be tough for the Kiwis and rankings wise Group G would be the group of death, though an argument could be made for group F.

    This is all moot until December 4 of course…

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