David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Now the real work begins for New Zealand Football bosses

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With the end of the great adventure yesterday, which other World Cup nation wins your allegiance for the next fortnight?

Or do you switch the TV off, so to speak? And therein lies the dilemma for New Zealand Football.

How should they go about ensuring the work of Ricki Herbert, Ryan Nelsen and co in South Africa does not go to waste?

When NZF chairman Frank van Hattum gets back home he'll have several orders of business high on his agenda.

They include working out how best to keep the All Whites in the forefront of the nation's minds in the next year.

Then there's sorting out the coaching arrangements with both Herbert and his assistant Brian Turner, whose term in charge of the national side ended with New Zealand's elimination; and lining up a solid book of opponents, given that they will have earned international credit through their efforts in the tournament.

Post 1982, the year of the All Whites' only other trip to the big show, there was a feeling that success had not been capitalised on.

Certainly there were lean years between drinks. That can't be allowed to happen again.

The last couple of weeks have been exhilarating.

Now things are getting serious, whittled down to the last 16 by this morning, with the knockout stage beginning early on Monday morning.

Who do you fancy? Who has made the biggest impression?

In no particular order, that group would include Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Although Germany stumbled against Serbia, they should start favourites for their hugely-anticipated clash against England in Bloemfontein early on Monday.

A smoking gun? What about Uruguay, who won a tough group A, face South Korea early tomorrow and then either the United States or Ghana in the quarter-finals.

Make the semifinals and it's all on.

The All Whites will watch this unfold like the rest of us now, and it will seem strange, having been central to the action and suddenly removed from it.

For nigh on 30 years, a word association game of All Whites and World Cup would have thrown up names like Sumner, Wooddin, Rufer and Adshead.

Now a new generation will talk of Mark Paston (and how many future goalkeepers will his exploits in South Africa inspire?), Shane Smeltz, Winston Reid and, above all, Ryan Nelsen.

So how would the teams compare in a mythical game? There are always dangers trying to compare different teams and eras.

The current team, unless the mind is playing tricks, are more adept at holding possession and playing their way out of a squeeze, even if there still remains a place for the old-fashioned welly down the park.

The 1982 team possessed the single most gifted footballer in Wynton Rufer, even if his finest years were still ahead of him at the time.

They also faced the best team of the six New Zealand have met at the World Cup in the Brazil of Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Junior.

Herbert's squad contained far fewer British accents, which points to a social shift in the game here. Their capacity to produce individuals who could make a reasonable impression in Europe is greater.

But the 1982 group were at least on a par with the present squad in one respect: both oozed spirit and passion. Both knew they were expected to be door mats in their opponents' eyes. Both vowed that wouldn't happen.

It has been a memorable fortnight. What lies ahead is a crucial period for the game's future in this country.

- NZ Herald

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