From a New Zealand perspective, the World Cup draw turned out about as well as could be expected: our group rivals will be Italy, Paraguay and South Africa. The ideal would have been a group headed by South Africa, which, as the host nation, is automatically one of the seeded teams. But of the big teams, Italy is perhaps the best one to play.
The Italians tend to be inspired by adversity and their style is based on impassable defense combined with ruthless finishing on the counter. They sometimes seem to get a little muddled when playing smaller teams and struggle to a narrow win or even a draw. We are lucky not to be in a group with Brazil or Germany, who have no qualms about thrashing minnows. Likewise, as they showed at the Confederations Cup, Spain are flat track bullies par excellence.
While it's good to have a desire to compete, and not merely enjoy the "romance" of playing Brazil or England, the New Zealand public remains wildly optimistic or blindly ignorant. In a recent Stuff poll (unscientific, to be sure), more than half of the respondents thought New Zealand would come other than last in their group. The rationale seems to be that Paraguay and Slovakia sound like rather insignificant countries, therefore we should be able to do well against them at football.
However, anyone thinking Paraguay is a minor or obscure team should note their July 2008 2-0 defeat of Brazil where they spent half a game with ten men, or perhaps their recent rather comfortable 1-0 home win over Argentina.
I don't know much about Slovakia, but any team that tops a group including two times World Cup semi-finalists Poland, Euro 1996 finalists Czech Republic, fellow qualifiers Slovenia, and Northern Ireland, is clearly not to be trifled with.
Let's be realistic. Success for New Zealand, in terms of meeting expectations, would be to score a couple of goals. Getting a point would be a historic achievement. Winning a game sits squarely in the realm of fantasy. Progressing to the next stage would be like the All Blacks winning the World Cup and the cricket team beating Australia in a test series on the same weekend, with the economy making it into the top half of the OECD in time for dinner.
So much for New Zealand. In a future post I'll make my predictions for which teams I think will be the likely winners, giant killers or surprise failures in South Africa.