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All Whites, all Wrong

New Zealand 0-5 Spain

First of all, I have to confess that New Zealand intrigued me more than most teams going into the FIFA Confederations Cup. No, it wasn't just because of the obvious historical kinship between the Kiwis and the Scots either.

With the All Whites facing a crucial two-legged play-off against the fifth best side in Asia a few months from now, this surely was the perfect opportunity to judge the Oceania champions. After all, more than a quarter of a century has passed since New Zealand last reached the World Cup finals.

The friendly performance against Italy in a creditable 4-3 defeat last week saw New Zealand hit plenty of high notes.

So, what went wrong in Rustenburg? Well, the answer is everything, although no one can have been the least bit surprised. If this had been rugby or cricket, it would of course have been a different story. But on the football pitch, very few top teams can live with Spain in a competitive outing, let alone the 82nd ranked side in the world.

Ricki Herbert's team learned the hard way that you can't give the ball away to the likes of Xavi, Fabregas and Torres, and certainly not when the errors are of the unforced variety. Spain wreaked early havoc on a jittery All Whites right flank with David Mulligan and Jeremy Brockie put to the sword.

For 95% of the game, New Zealand simply weren't permitted a look in. Leo Bertos chased and toiled without the ball and we saw almost nothing from Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen, who were both replaced near the end of the match.

Perhaps the most humiliating moment for the All-Whites arrived on 48 minutes when Andy Boyens made a complete hash of a straightforward clearance to gift the always predatory David Villa with the fifth Spanish goal.

The most frightening aspect of the whole experience is that Spain, had they been so inclined, could truly have hit double figures: they were that dominant.

Now for the good news. I'm sure you're ready for that. It's still possible for New Zealand to make it out of the group and it's reasonable to expect a much better performance against South Africa on Wednesday. I commentated on South Africa's untidy 0-0 draw with Iraq for ESPN viewers in the USA. New Zealand need not be afraid of either side.

Ricki Herbert ought to be targeting a draw with Bafana Bafana and a win against Iraq. Four points should be enough to get them through to the semi-finals, not that it's going to be easy. South Africa have a little bit more quality but as the Iraqis proved, with disciplined defending, they can be kept in check.

Then on Saturday, what better way to show that New Zealand can beat Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or North Korea, than to overcome the current Asian champions.

It will be tempting to make wholesale changes after the 5-0 thumping against the Spanish. It might be wiser though, to stand by the bulk of the team Herbert had confidence in to begin with and view the next two games as a brand new tournament.

Don't forget, that way of thinking worked for Russia who were thrashed by Spain at Euro 2008, only to go on and reach the semi-finals. All is not lost for the All Whites.


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