Country mascots: universally sucking since forever.
A team called the All Whites. In South Africa. Somewhere, a polar bear cloned from Hitler’s DNA is smiling. But since I’m assuming that name refers to the jersey colors and not some misguided racial commentary, I suppose we can be happy that the Kiwis (much better nickname) stunned Slovakia and shattered the expectation scale for their performance at the #worldcup. Err, World Cup. [F***ing Twitter.]
Everything changed in the span of a few seconds, which were themselves mere seconds from the final whistle. You can catch them at about the 1:30 mark here:
In 1982, New Zealand got bodyslammed by Brazil, the USSR, and Scotland to a tune of 12 goals to 2. Today they looked competent if hapless until Shane Smeltz pulled that sick 180-degree spin at the left corner of the box. Sure, Winston Reid’s finish was nice, but if Smeltz doesn’t change direction like that, the Slovakian defense probably stays with its marks better and no goal is scored.
The equalizer came from a brilliant spin outside the box, but it never should have come to that — Slovakia had the better of New Zealand for huge chunks of the game. New Zealand plays a surprisingly bold 3-4-3 formation, and as a result there were numerous counter-attacks from the Slovaks that should have resulted in better chances. Instead, there were a few too many moments of hesitancy, like Robert Vittek receiving a gorgeous pass 6-8 yards from the goal and inexplicably sitting on the ball for a second, which allowed a defender to recover and block him. There were also a few too-early anxious shots and some wasted set pieces, all of which left the door open for New Zealand.
This was the latest equalizer at a World Cup since the 1998 tourney, and it gave New Zealand their first points ever in the event. Quite an upset.
Or was it? NZL is actually ranked 44 places higher than Slovakia in the world rankings***, and Slovakia is in its first Cup compared to New Zealand’s second. Sure, they have more prominent players like Marek Hamsik, who scored 12 in Serie A for Napoli and Martin Skrtel, a sometimes-starter for Liverpool, but this team was as green as a, er, kiwi. Slovakia now faces the daunting task of having to find 4 points from games against Italy and Paraguay to have a good chance of advancement.
***Update: Thanks to Andrew, who pointed out that my soccer-bleary eyes got these numbers flipped. We may now resume calling it an upset.