David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Time to build on a great campaign


Someone remarked yesterday that they failed to see the point in celebrating the All Whites' World Cup campaign.

After all, he said, they hadn't won anything had they? If success is judged solely in the most basic terms of what's on the scoreboard, they hadn't.

But it's all a question of scale and perspective. What Ricki Herbert's men did was win the hearts and minds of New Zealand with a fortnight loaded with spirit, pride and resolve to show they deserved to be on world sports' grandest stage.

For a short space of time, the national sport took second place to a group of men, most of whose names would have failed to strike a chord round the country before the World Cup.

The All Whites might have had the easiest passage to the finals, other than the hosts and defending champions, and perhaps a determination to prove their worth helped.

They achieved hugely meritorious draws against teams ranked No 34, No 5 and No 31 in the world. They began the tournament at No 78. Only South Africa, at No 83, and North Korea, at No 105, were rated lower.

That the All Whites exceeded expectations is beyond doubt. Think back a couple of weeks.

What did you honestly figure was the best outcome for Ryan Nelsen's team?

Their performances have thrust New Zealand's name forward on the soccer map.

They showed their resilience by shaving points off Slovakia three minutes into injury time, then got in front early against the four-time winners and 2006 champions Italy and clung to their point with a yeoman defensive effort in the second half.

Paraguay had much more of the final group match and overall it was probably the All Whites' poorest performance of the three.

It has been an exhilarating journey. In the coming weeks, eyes will turn to the future.

What does it hold for the All Whites. And, for that matter, Herbert and assistant Brian Turner?

What about a programme for the coming year? Geography is always going to be an issue for New Zealand in that respect. These are issues that need sorting out, pronto.

Both coaches' contracts with New Zealand Football ended with the All Whites' elimination. Herbert is on loan from the Wellington Phoenix. His achievements won't have gone unnoticed round the soccer world.

Soccer's problem in New Zealand tends to be in keeping the early-mid teens from jumping codes. A fresh generation now know what is possible in a country where rugby rules.

How to compare John Adshead's pioneers of 1982 in Spain and Herbert's group. One was entering uncharted, and undreamt-of territory, with a hint of the wide-eyed about all that followed; the other the ending of a too-long absence from the sport's big show.

Brazil of 1982 would have walloped any of the teams in Group F, but this year's All Whites' would at least match their predecessors.

These All Whites have proved they have something to offer.

Winning qualification for the 2014 tournament in Brazil is essential - NZF must show this is no brief flirtation.

- NZ Herald

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