All Whites could be blanked
Although the New Zealand squad traveled to some of the most out-of-the-way places in the world, it had by far the shortest route to South Africa: eight games. The team even managed to lose one of them, but a home-and-home series playoff victory over Bahrain in November gave the All Whites their second World Cup appearance and first since 1982.
With the notable exception of the addition of Blackburn Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen, New Zealand will head to South Africa next summer with most of the players they took to the Confederations Cup last summer. That team was demolished by Spain, lost to South Africa and gained a scoreless tie with Iraq. Nelsen missed the Confederations Cup through injury, and while the former DC United captain's presence gives New Zealand a significant upgrade on defense, the chances are the All Whites will be whitewashed at the World Cup.
New Zealand went 0-3 at the 1982 World Cup, and while 2010 manager Ricki Herbert will talk about looking to advance from the group stage, a first Cup victory (or even a point) in South Africa would be a major boost to New Zealand soccer. To achieve that goal, Herbert will be relying on a group of players with strong connections to the United States.
Nelsen, the Kiwis' captain and defensive anchor, played college ball at Greensboro College (N.C.) and Stanford before joining DC United in MLS. He led the Black and Red to the 2004 MLS Cup title before heading to Blackburn in 2005. Along with the likes of Brian McBride, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, he is one of the few players who cut their teeth in MLS and have made an impact in the EPL. His leadership and defensive skills will be invaluable to New Zealand. Former UC Santa Barbara and New England Revolution defender Tony Lochhead is the starting left back for the Kiwis, and veteran midfielder Tim Brown played his college ball at Cincinnati. Current MLS players Andrew Boyens (New York Red Bulls), Simon Elliott (San Jose Earthquakes) and Duncan Oughton (Columbus Crew) will most likely be on the World Cup squad.
Veteran defender Ivan Vicelich is New Zealand's most capped player, and he will bring plenty of experience to the back four. Goalkeeper Glen Moss is a capable shot stopper who played well at the Confederations Cup, but he is currently serving a four-game FIFA suspension. (He was sent off in the November 2008 qualifying game against Fiji for "abusing" the referee, and because of an administrative error, New Zealand did not appeal the suspension.) As it stands, Moss will have to sit out the first two games of the World Cup. With Moss serving his suspension, backup goalkeeper Mark Paston gained national-hero status by saving a Bahrain penalty kick in the second-leg playoff game to preserve the 1-0 win that clinched the team's spot. Paston will likely take Moss' spot again in the Cup.
In midfield and on offense, the Kiwis have very little to offer. Shane Smeltz led the team in scoring in the qualifying campaign but didn't have an impact at the Confederations Cup. His strike partner, Chris Killen, is another journeyman who has seen some playing time with the likes of Manchester City and Celtic but has not been able to hold down a starting spot for a variety of teams, including Wrexham, Port Vale, Oldham, Hibs and Norwich City. West Brom's young striker Chris Woods has plenty of potential, but this World Cup will likely be a learning experience for him.
Unlike his players, Herbert has World Cup experience, having played for the Kiwis' 1982 World Cup team. He also doubles as manager of Australian A-League side Wellington Phoenix. Several of his Phoenix players, including Paston, Lochhead, Brown, Leo Bertos, Dave Mulligan and Ben Sigmund will most likely be on the All Whites' roster in South Africa.
In 1995, when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, it famously beat New Zealand in the final. Both countries remain superpowers in rugby, but the odds on the two nations meeting in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final are not just long, they are astronomical. In the round-ball game, New Zealand will look to be more competitive at the World Cup finals than they were at the Confederations Cup and would consider a first World Cup win in South Africa a real success. Anything beyond that would be considered an extraordinary achievement.
Mark Young is a World Cup writer and researcher for ESPN.