Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kiwis Headed for South Africa 2010

New Zealand defeated Bahrain 1-0 on what looked like a blustery night in Wellington -- which was what the Kiwis were hoping for as a favorable atmosphere for heat-loving Bahrain.

Rory Fallon headed home the only goal, just before halftime, and goalkeeper Mark Paston saved a penalty early in the second half to put New Zealand into South Africa 2010.

It is the first result in today, from the 15 qualifiers on tap. The Saturday night match actually ended before Saturday even dawned in a big chunk of the world.

Here is a link to the story posted by the Post Dominion newspaper in Wellington. The page has a video link that nearly summarizes the match.

Later today I will post a link to one of Bahrain's English-language newspaper for what, no doubt, will be a mournful account of the proceedings.

(I would hate to be Sayed Mohamed Adnan, the man who failed to convert the penalty. He probably instantly became one of the 10 most infamous people in Bahrain.)

The ramifications of this:

--Bahrain's failure means that Gulf Arabs won't have a team at South Africa. If they want to root for fellow Arabs, they will have to settle for the Tunisians or Algerians, if they advance, later today.

--It means Bahrain has come tantalizingly close to its first World Cup for in consecutive quadrenniums. The Bahrainis lost a similar home-and-home, winner-goes-to-the-World Cup vs. another "unfancied" squad (as the English would say) in Trinidad & Tobago before the 2006 World Cup. How do you say "Close but no cigar" in Arabic?

--New Zealand gives Oceania a team in the World Cup. Although Australia also is in. The Aussies, however, shifted into Asia beginning with this qualifying round. Thus, New Zealand had to defeat only sad little sides such as New Caledonia and Fiji to get to the playoff with Bahrain. It is by far -- by far -- the weakest region in the world, and the Kiwis are all but guaranteed a playoff shot ... forever. Or until Australia comes back.

--It is New Zealand's first World Cup appearance since 1982, and second all-time, and there may not be many more -- even with the nearly-straight-to-the-playoffs reality of the current Oceania setup. Not if some of Asia's enormously populated, soccer-mad countries ever get their acts together. (Talking to you, China. And you, India and Indonesia and Malaysia.) That would put a side more formidable than Bahrain into a playoffs with the Oceania champ. (That is, New Zealand.) New Zealand has only 4.3 million people, and soccer is no better than its third-favorite sport, far behind rugby and cricket.

--New Zealand now is the darling underdog of South Africa 2010 (assuming the hosts have to play better than they have shown, of late). And they also are officially the team Everyone Wants in Their Group when the 2010 draw is made on Dec. 5.

But just being there ... that's a big deal for New Zealand soccer. Congratulations.

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