The mission: to name the Greatest All Whites XI.
The idea for this project arose after the announcement of a match between New Zealand and England which was scheduled for Wembley Stadium last month.
After the match was cancelled, we went ahead anyway with the plan to find the best New Zealand football side ever.
A panel of 10 was formed, which included the 1982 World Cup coach Kevin Fallon, former All White Harry Ngata, former All Whites mentor and longtime football luminary Allan Jones, the legendary mother/daughter combo of Barbara and Michele Cox, Football Ferns striker Amber Hearn, and members of the media.
Each panel member was asked to name their team with some substitutes if they wished, and provide comments on the players.
Due to a lack of fullbacks being put forward, we used a formation with three defenders.
So here it is, our take on the Greatest All Whites XI. There's also a second XI which reflects the players who went close to selection.
Our selectors - the men and women who each picked their best New Zealand team from which we formed our Greatest All Whites XI.
History maker as famed assistant coach of the 1982 All Whites, forming the legendary yin and yang partnership with coach John Adshead.
Football commentator, former All White and Football Kingz stalwart who also experienced English second division football with Hull City.
All Whites coach in the 1980s, who guided Auckland City, numerous overseas clubs and the Football Ferns.
Barbara & Michele Cox
The mother/daughter legends of New Zealand football. Dr. Michele Cox has also worked as a consultant for FIFA and is chief executive of the New Zealand Football Foundation. They produced a combined selection for this project.
The recently retired Hearn holds the Football Ferns goal scoring record – 54 in 125 games – and had an extensive overseas club career.
Sports broadcaster and football fanatic who has anchored TVNZ's coverage of FIFA World Cups.
Former New Zealand Herald sports journalist who covered the history-making 1982 All Whites on their long World Cup campaign.
NewstalkZB sports broadcaster and football commentator, who covered the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Sports broadcaster and football fanatic – of the West Ham variety – who covered the 2010 World Cup finals.
NZME sports journalist, football aficionado and writer/columnist, and longtime boss of the national football media awards.
Greatest All Whites XI (3-1-4-2)
Mark Paston (36 games, 1997 – 2013)
What a story. Glen Moss would have been coach Ricki Herbert's first choice goalkeeper for the 2010 World Cup campaign, but for a suspension.
Up stepped Paston, saving a penalty against Bahrain to help get the All Whites to the finals. Apart from a dodgy moment against Slovakia, he was superb in South Africa, particularly in the shock draw against world champions Italy.
Paston was the overwhelming choice for goalkeeper among our selectors.
Martin Devlin said: "It's really hard separating our best 'keepers – no one is head and shoulders above the rest. For his penalty save against Bahrain and standout displays in South Africa, it's Patsy."
Harry Ngata described Paston as "such a humble soul who took everything in his stride".
Kevin Fallon also plumped for Paston, over his 1982 qualifying stalwart Richard Wilson, and World Cup finals custodian Frank van Hattum.
"Paston had a great World Cup – as simple as that," Fallon said.
"Wilson was too temperamental. He pulled a hamstring walking up the tunnel for one match. Van Hattum wasn't big enough."
Simon Kay calls Paston's playoff penalty stop against Bahrain "the most important save in All Whites history".
Miles Davis said Paston's heroics in the first qualifying leg in Bahrain resonated most.
"It could have been 6 – 0 and ended 0 – 0."
Ivan Vicelich (88 games, 1995 - 2013)
The judges struggled to find genuine fullbacks. So we've used a formation a la the one coach Ricki Herbert's used for the 2010 World Cup, with a back three.
Vicelich was a poised and elegant player who could also have been a holding midfielder in this team.
He made his major mark on the world stage as a calming influence central to the 2010 World Cup campaign.
The Auckland City fulcrum also shared a podium with Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo when awarded the FIFA Club World Cup bronze ball in 2014.
Jason Pine said Vicelich "held huge mana and sway in the dressing room."
Harry Ngata described him as "the Godfather who has contributed so much to the national team spanning nearly two decades…one of our greats."
Vicelich was also, as Simon Kay put it, "one of the few All Whites to crack European football".
Martin Devlin - among the judges who preferred him for a midfield role - reckoned: "Big Ivan had more farewell tours than the Rolling Stones. This guy was the Cal Ripken Jr. of New Zealand footballers."
Vicelich and Ryan Nelsen were the first players picked by Barbara/Michele Cox because "they have the character a team should be based around".
Ryan Nelsen (49 games, 1999 - 2012)
The central defender was among the handful of absolute certainties for our Greatest XI.
Few countries have headed to a World Cup finals with a more important player than Nelsen. He was way more than just an average leader and the results were testament to his greatness.
"Hands down the best leader and performer we have had…the absolute reason we did so well in 2010," is how Team Cox put it.
Allan Jones said Nelsen had the best spatial awareness of any player he coached.
"He demonstrated this from the age of 15, showing great football intelligence. He had excellent interception and tackling ability while his distribution from the back was always measured and safe," Jones said.
Terry Maddaford said: "No one ever wanted to play for his country more than captain Nelsen. Made his mark in the US before a distinguished career with Blackburn Rovers."
Jason Pine reckoned: "True English Premier League pedigree and an absolute rock in the 2010 World Cup side. His massive influence spread well beyond the grass."
Harry Ngata said Nelsen was "mentally one of, if not the, toughest player we have produced."
Winston Reid (25 games, 2010 -)
As with Paston, fate called as Reid became a belated and unforgettable part of the 2010 finals in South Africa.
It led, quickly, to a long career with English Premier League club West Ham, and an almost automatic position in an all-time All Whites selection.
A journalist revealed just three months before the World Cup that the Auckland-raised Reid, who had moved with his family to Denmark at the age of 10, was available.
The rest is history, the big, athletic defender's last gasp goal to secure a draw in the opening game against Slovakia in Rustenburg changing his life, and laying the for New Zealand's extraordinary unbeaten run in Group F. Only one of our selectors left him out.
West Ham fan Miles Davis believed Reid's elevation into the EPL ranks "probably occurred a bit too soon and he was found wanting…he went on to give a decade of top service to the club."
Allan Jones rated Reid as a centre-back with "good pace who listens and reacts to calls immediately. He has good pace for covering with careful distribution. He attacks the space in front of strikers well and can be effective jumping forward into the midfield."
Simon Kay said: "Not the most committed - just 17 caps since 2010 - but a key figure in South Africa."
Simon Elliott (69 games, 95 - 2011)
The 36-year-old defensive midfielder had a fine 2010 World Cup at a time when his career in America was faltering.
While Ryan Nelsen received a lot of the attention and praise for his leadership, lieutenant Elliott was alongside the captain every step of the way, and his overall contribution has probably been overlooked.
Elliott was just the fourth Kiwi to play in the English Premier League, for mid-table side Fulham in 2006.
Harry Ngata believes Elliott had "the best passing game of his generation".
"The range of passing was exquisite - short, long - and he could play of both feet."
Jason Pine said Elliott was "technically as good as anyone to wear the white shirt and exceptional in South Africa in 2010".
Michele/Barbara Cox described him as a "smart and great playmaker from the depths of midfield".
Miles Davis also went for Elliott, while acknowledging he had detractors.
"I can already hear the howling at this selection but I stand by it," Davis said.
"On his day Elliott was a class above most Kiwi midfielders and although it may be argued that he didn't reach those heights every time, his efforts in South Africa showcased him at his best. On that alone he makes the final cut."
Michael McGarry (54 games, 1986 - 97)
The only former player from outside of the famous 1982 and 2010 World Cup sides.
As such, he might not be so much of a household name. But in the world of football, McGarry is revered for his midfield craft and skill.
He scored 12 goals in 54 A-internationals but it's the one that got away he will be remembered for most. A goal line clearance robbed him of a goal - and what he says would have been his career highlight - against the touring England side in 1991.
Apart from a season in the A-league, the longtime Dunedin schoolteacher is one of the great amateurs.
Kevin Fallon said: "If he had been born in the modern era he may have made his way into the professional ranks. I always felt he could have achieved much more from the game but he suffered with a Mosgiel mentality."
Jason Pine said: "Many who saw him at his peak describe McGarry as the most skillful Kiwi player they've seen."
Simon Kay said McGarry was a skillful wide player who drew praise from England's manager Graham Taylor.
And Harry Ngata said: "Mike could do the unexpected. He was technically superior to those around him, with a mind that was always three steps ahead."
Grant Turner (42 games, 1980 – 88)
Turner pipped Tim Brown for a midfield spot in this team.
He was central to the All Whites World Cup qualification in 1982, but missed out on the big stage because of a training ground injury. It was a devastating blow for Turner, one which has haunted him and also hurt his overseas professional chances at the time.
His header against Australia in Sydney brought one of the great All Whites goals, and among the most important.
And 14 goals in 42 A—international appearances are testament to his scoring ability. But it was his toughness which is remembered most.
"You would take him to war with you…same with Steve Sumner," is how Kevin Fallon put it.
"He would bully opponents, push them around. He could push forward and get goals, play right or left. He was bloody hard…not easy to manage though.
"I sold him (from Gisborne City) to an Australian club and the manager wanted me to take him back – I think he threw his shirt at him."
Terry Maddaford described Turner as the "heart of the engine-room for much of the World Cup qualifying campaign".
He also said Turner's deft flick which created Wynton Rufer's stunning goal against China should be remembered alongside the Sydney header.
Steve Sumner (58 games, 1976 – 88) - captain
Sumner is a national sports legend for leading the All Whites on their long, improbable and gripping run into the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.
The John Adshead/Kevin Fallon coaching partnership wanted players totally dedicated to New Zealand's cause. In Sumner, they found the leader they needed.
After emigrating as a young man from England Sumner became a dominant force with Christchurch United. His feats included scoring New Zealand's first goal in the World Cup finals, against Scotland.
Simon Kay described Sumner as the "tough, uncompromising leader of the team that put the All Whites on the sporting map…a talented midfielder with an eye for goal."
Harry Ngata said "You couldn't have a best XI without your captain. He bought the best out of team mates. A true champion and gentleman."
Jason Pine said he was "hard as nails, but also technically excellent".
Devlin described Sumner as "the heart and soul of our team".
"Character , skill, shooting, tackling, engine – he was our captain Marvel."
Fallon said: "He wasn't the easiest to manage, or not for me. Sumner and I were at loggerheads at times, to be fair he got on much better with John Adshead. A really tough footballer."
Choosing between Sumner and Ryan Nelsen for the captaincy was an impossible task. We tossed a coin. Sumner won.
Ryan Thomas (19 games, 2014 -)
At 24, Thomas is easily the youngest player to make the Greatest All Whites XI.
Steve Sumner was the only overwhelming midfield choice among our selectors, but Thomas will surely grow into a future certainty.
"It's extremely difficult to assess players such as Liberato Cacace, Sarpreet Singh and Ryan Thomas who have yet to become real All Whites – in other words with fifty to 100 caps, and week-in-week out professionals," is how Kevin Fallon put it.
But there's no doubt Thomas can give the All Whites midfield a skill level which opens up possibilities beyond their traditional style.
Veteran coach Allan Jones included Thomas, saying: "Quick and surprisingly tough competitor. Receives well and can dance inside defenders. Good timing and weighting of pass. Knows when to hold, pass or run. Can cross for, or link up with, strikers on central attacking runs."
Martin Devlin saw Thomas as the "creative on-ball guy" alongside tough midfielders like Grant Turner and/or Tim Brown.
Harry Ngata described Thomas as "an exciting midfielder with a creative instinct – one of the most gifted players in recent times."
And Simon Kay said the Thomas career in Europe was flying under the radar with the New Zealand public, as occurred with Wynton Rufer 30 years ago.
"Technically, Thomas is perhaps our best midfielder ever," he said.
Wynton Rufer (23 games, 1980 – 1997)
The legendary striker is also unbeatable pound-for-pound considering the accolades for a player with just 23-caps.
Rufer was so special, a youngster who gave the All Whites a world class edge as a late addition to the 1982 qualifying campaign. The highlight was his long range strike against China in Singapore.
This laid the foundation for his brilliant career at German club Werder Bremen, which included domestic and European glory.
Harry Ngata said: "Give him his own ball – literally. Our most gifted player technically. He had unbelievable skill with an ability to do the unthinkable."
Team Cox called Rufer "a game changer who is still talked about in Germany."
Terry Maddaford said Rufer was the Kiwi who "upstaged" the Australians in being named Oceania's player of the century.
Allan Jones described him as a "scorer of simple and outrageous goals at any level".
His 1982 coach Kevin Fallon said Rufer was "a dreamy type of player…either on or off."
"You couldn't rely on him to defend or push up in the top third…he wouldn't remember who to defend at a corner kick. Rufer thought defence was that thing at the back of the garden. But he was capable of the sensational."
Chris Wood (57 games, 2009 -)
Wood has carried a knack for scoring goals he exhibited as a youngster all the way into the English Premier League with Burnley.
Still in his teens, he had limited opportunities with the 2010 World Cup All Whites, coming on in the final half hour during the three pool games in South Africa. But his potential for succeeding at the highest level was obvious.
Only one selector left him out, making a front two of Rufer and Wood an easy choice in this formation.
Jason Pine said Wood (24 goals) was destined to become the All Whites' top goalscorer, overtaking Vaughan Coveny (28 goals).
Harry Ngata said: "He leads the line superbly...scores goals, physically strong and good in the air and on the ground. An instinctive player."
Allan Jones praised Wood's ability to act as an avenue for midfield or back players in trouble with the ball.
"Big, powerful and quick. Leads the line with understanding," he said.
"Can receive and hold in the tight positions and has the ability to bring others into the game, or turn and take defenders on."
Simon Kay, who chose strikers Wood, Rufer and Shane Smeltz in his lineup, praised Wood's enthusiasm to play for the All Whites.
Our second XI (4-3-3)
Sandy Davie (11 games, 1979 – 81)
Allan Jones' vivid description of Davie – which included a 'keeper with soft hands - won me over. Contenders included Glen Moss, Michael Utting, Clint Gosling and Kevin Curtin.
Ricki Herbert (61 games, 1980 – 89)
Better known as a central defender but for our purposes shifted to right back which has been New Zealand football's problem position.
Indeed, Team Cox suggested a player like Vaughan Coveny – New Zealand's top goalscorer – could have converted to a wide defender in the modern game.
"With his speed and scoring ability he would offer something New Zealand has never had at top level…attack from the flanks," they said.
Glenn Dods, from 1982, received the odd mention.
Bobby Almond (28 games, 1979 – 82)
Almond was critical to the 1982 success, but the rise of English Premier League players Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid has obscured his World Cup contribution to a degree.
Danny Hay (31 games, 1996 – 2007)
The current All Whites coach was good enough to be signed by Leeds United in a career beaten up by injuries. Ceri Evans and Malcolm Dunford also got mentions.
Ronnie Armstrong (25 games, 1971 – 83)
I would love to put Liberato Cacace's name here. The rising star will surely become the All Whites greatest left back. But his newcomer status meant he didn't get enough votes or comments to pip Armstrong. There were some interesting possibilities including Tommy Smith, the versatile Adrian Elrick and Kenny Cresswell.
Ken Armstrong (9 games, 1958 – 62)
Selector Allan Jones described him as a perfectionist with a great range of passes. A reminder of a bygone era. Anyone who played 350 games for Chelsea, and won an England call up in the 1950s, must have been good.
Tim Brown (30 games, 2004 – 2012)
Well respected by the judges. Nobbled by an Aussie before the 2010 World Cup finals so as with Grant Turner nearly three decades earlier he was denied a place on football's greatest stage.
Brown was a truly great team man. He even helped promote the qualifying match against Bahrain in Wellington, and arrange pre-World Cup training camps. Now worth an absolute fortune, thanks to his Allbirds shoe company.
Brian Turner (59 games, 1967 – 82)
Didn't win as many votes as I thought he would, but still too good to be left out. Turner was a mainstay of New Zealand football for so long, a midfielder with goal scoring class. He pipped the likes of his old Mt Wellington comrade Dave Taylor and 1982 powerhouse Duncan Cole for this midfield spot. And Sarpreet Singh is the young man to watch here.
Shane Smeltz (58 games, 2003 – 2017)
Great goalscoring record of 24 in 58 games. More importantly, his cross set up Winston Reid's historic goal against Slovakia in the 2010 World Cup, and he scored against world champions Italy in the next.
Steve Wooddin (24 games, 1980 – 84)
Like Bobby Almond, a 1982 superstar who has been shaded over the years – in his case by the glamour of Wynton Rufer and rise of EPL striker Chris Wood. Wooddin's left foot belongs in New Zealand football's hall of fame. Jock Newall, a Scot who 16 goals in just 10 during the 1950s, has to get a mention. The contenders included Keith Nelson and Vaughan Coveny.
Iain Ormond (10 games, 1971 – 76)
The gifted Ormond was a gem from the wonderful national league days of the 1970s. Barbara/Michele Cox came up with a maverick possibility in Alf Stamp, a magical winger from the same era.