Editorial: NZ's rise best aspect of tepid World Cup

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All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen won a well-deserved accolade by being included in the 'World Cup Best XI' named by American sports channel ESPN. Photo / Getty Images
All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen won a well-deserved accolade by being included in the 'World Cup Best XI' named by American sports channel ESPN. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealanders will always remember the month-long festival of soccer that was the 2010 World Cup with special fondness. This was the tournament when their team, undefeated in three pool matches, came of age.

South Africans will look back with a similar pride. This was the event that put their country, and their continent, emphatically on the world stage, and they emerged with great credit.

Little of the violent crime and chaotic organisation that were predicted to undermine the tournament eventuated. In many other respects, however, this will not be a World Cup recalled with much affection.

Yesterday's final between Spain and the Netherlands, won 1-0 by the Spaniards in extra time, was typical of encounters in which much is at stake.

The Dutch, whose "total football" once provided such exhilaration, were reduced to the worst offenders in a dour match that produced 13 yellow cards and one red.

Spain were able to claim the world title despite scoring only their eighth goal in seven games. But if it was, perhaps, understandable that fear dominated the final, this was surely not the case for the whole tournament.

An average of just over two goals were scored in each match as teams put up defensive walls and looked to attack as a secondary endeavour.

Goal-scorers of renown, such as Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney, failed to find the net once. Draws were the most common currency in the first round of matches. Only Germany and Argentina showed genuine attacking intent.

They were rewarded with some impressive scorelines but then, in a manner that, unfortunately, supported a more safety-first approach, were eliminated when their all-round credentials were closely examined.

This lack of spectacle on the pitch seems, somewhat predictably, to have failed to register with the Fifa boss, Sepp Blatter.

It was "a very attractive World Cup", he said. "If you look at the enthusiasm in South Africa and the TV audiences around the world then it was a special World Cup."

It is not Mr Blatter's style to look too deeply into anything that might be frustrating that worldwide audience. Only reluctantly, and after the gross officiating blunder that denied England a goal in their game against Germany, will soccer's governors look again at goal-line technology.

This myopia, allied to a strong dose of arrogance, also means there will be little examination of why so many of the games were flat and why so few of the world's best players performed up to expectation.

New Zealand, of course, defied all predictions. Their performance, especially the 1-1 draw with Italy, the 2006 World Cup winner, will see them ranked in the world's top 50 teams. Ryan Nelsen, their captain, has won a well-deserved accolade by being included in the "World Cup Best XI" named by American sports channel ESPN.

The emphasis most teams placed on defence makes the selection of the central defender even more a feather in the cap. New Zealand also ended up with the quirky distinction of being the only unbeaten country at the World Cup.

It has to be said that the All Whites failed to win a match. They were among the teams to prosper from defence-first tactics.

New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum was right to point out that "we have learned how not to lose - we have to learn how to win". That must be the target for the 2014 World Cup, in which the All Whites should again be involved thanks to ongoing qualification through the Oceania Confederation.

Coach Ricki Herbert is expected to recommit to NZ today. The future looks bright for soccer here. It would help if some of the positivity fans here felt were to flow on to the pitch at Brazil 2014.

- NZ Herald

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