Kiwis find feet on world stage

Yet, though Ricki Herbert’s battling All Whites take their leave from South Africa without having won a game, they have not tasted defeat and their three-point tally was enough to consign the title holders to the group’s wooden spoon.
The Kiwis’ goalless draw in their final game with Paraguay ensured the Oceania outfit finished third in the section and a win would even have sent them into the knockout stages for the very first time.
“Playing at a World Cup has been a dream come true for me,” says 18-year-old striker Chris Wood, the squad’s youngest player who came off the bench in each of their three group encounters
“It’s been a special and wonderful experience and one which I’ve learnt a lot from. We’ve handled the occasion well and we’ve grown in confidence, which is important.”
The West Bromwich Albion forward also touched upon the chances missed by the All Whites, particularly against Italy and Paraguay.
“Perhaps a lack of concentration proved decisive,” says Wood.
“In any case, I did what I could. As well as playing well, a player sometimes needs a little bit of luck too.”
“Next up for me is going back to England, where I’ve still got plenty to learn. And who knows, perhaps in four years’ time with more experience under our belts we’ll be even more competitive.”
Veteran defender-turned-midfielder Ivan Vicelich says the New Zealand camp has mixed feelings.
“Everyone has done a great job and we’ve done better than we were expected to. It’s really great that we’ve come through a World Cup without losing a match, we’re all very happy.
“That said, we weren’t far away from going through. But we can console ourselves that we were in a tough group and up against stronger and more experienced teams.”
The Auckland City stalwart’s highlight is an obvious choice – the 1-1 draw with the superstars of Italy.
“We came into this competition as certainties to finish fourth in the group. Instead of that we’ve managed to hold the world champions to a draw – something that I’ll never forget. You can’t put into words how we all felt after that match.
“We didn’t get that result through luck either, it came from a solid performance. We made chances and could even have won the game.”
“Last year we went to the Confederations Cup (in South Africa) but we made too many mistakes and didn’t make much of a stir,” says the former Roda JC and RKC Waalwijk professional.
“We’re in a better position now and have earned the other teams’ respect. We ought to be optimistic about the future.”
Whether Vicelich will be involved in that future is another matter.
“Football is a real pleasure and I’ll keep playing a long for as long as I still enjoy it and the supporters still appreciate me,” he says.
“I could maybe give you a better answer in a couple of years’ time. As you know, the game evolves quickly, the style of play changes and that’s why it’s difficult to decide anything now.”
Story and photo courtesy of www.fifa.com

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