So, where were you on the evening of November 14? Surely you remember. How could you not? In a country that salivates over sporting success, the date has since been ringed with golden ink.

It was a day that turned all white on the night as the New Zealand soccer team overturned generations of failure, angst, administrative shortcomings and general malaise on its head.

A 1-0 win over Bahrain in the second leg of the Asia-Oceania zone playoff in Wellington booked coach Ricki Herbert's men entry to next year's World Cup in South Africa, the biggest sporting showpiece on the planet.

A record 35,000-plus crowd watched on live while countless others - including probably your good self - tuned in via the television set as the All Whites outplayed their opponents and got home courtesy of a headed goal from Rory Fallon.

Ah, that lad Fallon. His match-sealing contribution lent a romantic edge to the drama due to the fact he offered a direct link to New Zealand soccer's halcyon days. His father, Kevin, was the assistant coach under John Adshead when New Zealand last qualified for the World Cup, way, way back in 1982, when Herbert and his present day assistant Brian Turner were on the playing staff.

There was little to compare the two campaigns. Adshead's warriors were forced to endure a then record 15 qualifying matches while Herbert's heroes got in the back door, so to speak, surviving six matches against modest Oceania island nation opposition before the away and home playoff against Bahrain.

But who's quibbling? Herbert's charges could only play what was in front of them, although there seems every likelihood that the sport's world governing body, Fifa, will move to ensure a tougher qualifying process in the future. Once the final whistle blew in the capital, New Zealanders celebrated like seldom before as soccer mania swept this small nation like a rash.

There was even loose talk from some who should know better of soccer taking the initial baby steps towards dethroning rugby as New Zealand's sport of first choice. Put such a silly proposition down to the intoxicating fumes of victory. The reality of the team's achievement was underlined this month when the World Cup draw in Cape Town pitched the All Whites in group F alongside against defending champions Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay in June, when they will play their matches in the outposts of Rustenburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane.

The All Whites almost made up for the modest efforts of this country's premier sporting teams.

The All Blacks, the Silver Ferns, the New Zealand cricket team and the Kiwis all failed to flatter after largely indifferent campaigns.

The All Blacks surrendered the Tri-Nations rugby title to South Africa, who beat them three times, and ended the year with a 10 win, four loss record - more than respectable by most standards, but not those applied to the New Zealand team.

Their struggles to come to grips with some perplexing rules imposed upon the game at the top level by the International Rugby Board even prompted Henry and his assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen to perform a mid-year game of pass the parcel as they swapped their specialist roles.

So, for the late season northern hemisphere tour, taking in a fourth Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Tokyo, Henry took over as forwards coach, Smith assumed the head coach's previous role with defence and Hansen lost the forwards job and took charge of attack.

The rugby, in the main, remained turgid but the Wallabies were beaten, again, as were Wales, Italy, England and France before a team of second stringers lost the tour finale to the Barbarians.

Rugby had serious issues to deal with this year, particularly at domestic level where the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) bought a bunfight with the provinces over plans to cull four teams from the Air NZ Cup.

Fierce public debate raged for months before the threat of legal action persuaded the NZRU board to put off any changes for another year at least. The big loser in the backdown was chief executive Steve Tew, who fronted the campaign for change in the face of spiralling costs.

But Tew has signalled the issue will not go away, so expect more acrimony and ill feeling as the NZRU moves to manipulate the domestic competition model to fit its financial needs.

Much like the All Blacks, the Silver Ferns netball team also spluttered along, ending with a five-win, six-loss record which included series defeats to Australia and, more worryingly, a World Seven selection who had limited time together before beating the New Zealanders 2-1 in a three-match series.

Coach Ruth Aitken more than once asked for understanding as she described 2009 as a development year, her main focus being next year's Commonwealth Games and the 2011 world championship.

The national cricket side did not have the luxury of looking too far ahead because their frailties were again exposed on the international stage as they won just one of 10 tests, 10 of 20 one-dayers and five of 10 Twenty20 internationals.

And if Henry and Aitken considered themselves unfairly targeted by the critics, spare a thought for Andy Moles, who had no choice but to resign as New Zealand cricket coach after it emerged the players had little faith in his abilities.

He was barely one year into his contract before opting out, doing so in a dignified and gracious manner not shared by those who plotted to ensure the player concerns were leaked publicly so as to seriously limit Moles' options.

His unscheduled departure, not longer after guiding New Zealand to the Champions Trophy one-day final, which they lost to Australia, led to captain Daniel Vettori taking on some coaching duties on top of his everyday chores as a selector, the team's chief decision-maker, best bowler and most reliable batsman.

Already battling a shoulder complaint which limits him to throwing under-armed in the field, Vettori's workload is untenable in the medium term and New Zealand Cricket has promised to have a coach in place for the home series against Bangladesh in February.

The Kiwis rugby league team, still flying high from their World Cup heroics in 2008, had a quiet and moderate year, a heavy Anzac test loss to Australia being followed by a far from convincing win over Tonga before they headed to Britain and France for the Four Nations tournament.

A rousing 20-20 draw with Australia in London was followed by a 62-12 walloping of France but a poor performance when losing 12-20 to England meant they did not even feature in the final.

While our so-called top four sporting teams had years which will quickly be forgotten, those representing lower tier codes excelled, such as hockey where both the men's and women's teams qualified for next year's World Cups and won their respective Champions Challenge tournaments to advance to the elite Champions Trophy.

Elsewhere, individuals flew the flag with fervour, no one more proudly than shot put colossus Valerie Vili, who retained her world championship title in style.

The 2008 Olympic champion already casts an imposing shadow over her rivals and, at 25, she is years short of her physical prime in a sport where many do not peak until their 30s.

Vili ended her year with an emphatic statement, too, throwing a personal best of 21.07m when chalking up her 25th consecutive competition win at the World Athletics Final in Greece in September. Cycling and rowing commanded their share of the headlines in a non-Games year, with Alison Shanks winning the women's 3000m individual pursuit world title only to learn by year's end that the event is being wiped from the Olympics programme.

Rowing workhorse Mahe Drysdale, so cruelly cut down by sickness at last year's Olympic Games in Beijing, retained his world single sculls title while he was joined on the winner's podium at the world championships by the lightweight double of Storm Uru and Peter Taylor as well as the pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.

Golfer Danny Lee, then 18, turned heads in February when becoming the youngest winner in European Tour history at the Johnnie Walker Classic at Perth, a result which has earned him European status for 2010 and 2011.

He switched to the paid ranks in April after appearing in the Masters at Augusta, Georgia, before embarking on a bold bid to earn his card on the PGA Tour in the United States, which he ultimately failed to do.

But Lee's time will come, as it will for Herbert's All Whites in June.

- NZPA