The All White's performance at the World Cup was most certainly not the most excellent sporting achievement of 2010. And God help us if it represents the future of football in this country.

The below originally was a comment over on Imperator Fish, in response to Scott's claim that the All Whites were worthy recipients of the Halberg Award. Seeing as I kind of went to town on it, I'm stealing it back and reproducing it here.

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I play a lot of football. I was excited by the World Cup. I cared a lot about how New Zealand (the "All Whites" tag sucks) did there. But I don't think they should have got the Halberg Award for it. Here's why...

(1): The Halberg Trust's mission statement is that "the Halberg Trust will honour sporting excellence" (there may be more detailed criteria for judging performance, but I can't find them).

(2): Getting to the World Cup doesn't really count for anything, imho. In reality, it means we had to beat Bahrain. And even then we really shouldn't have done so ... we ought to have been 2-0 down after the first leg alone, while that Bahrainian penalty in Wellington was pretty awful.

(3) The NZ team then were not "excellent" in their performances in South Africa. I don't say this because they didn't win their matches ... I know that a draw in football is often an amazing result generated by supurb play - check out this, for instance  ... but rather because they were completely outclassed in every game they played. To be brutally frank, we couldn't keep the ball for more than 3 or 4 passes, none of our players had the skills or the confidence to take on the opposition one-on-one, we relied on a single tactic (defend in depth, try to win possession from an error, then kick it up to the tall guys up front) and we had no fall-back when this plan didn't work (as it was bound not to, once it became clear this is all we planned to do).

(4): So, yes - the team was "gutsy", it was "committed", it was "plucky" ... but I simply don't think you could describe any of its performances as "excellent" displays of sport. In fact, that last game against Paraguay possibly was the worst game of football I've ever seen. Compare the NZ team's performances to, say, the way the All Blacks set a new standard for the rest of the rugby world this year. One led. The other struggled to even stay on the field.

(5): Thus, to award this on the basis that NZ went undefeated in three games at the biggest football event on the planet is to make the opposite mistake to the one people are now accusing Dick Tayler of making (being fixated on results). Yes - we didn't lose a game. But we didn't ever look like winning ... we didn't really even look like playing football.

(6) Finally, while we're on results, hasn't the World Cup kind of overshadowed the fact that NZ only won 2 of the 10 games that they played in 2010, losing 4 and drawing the other 4? Is that really the "most excellent" sporting achievement of 2010?

That is all I have to say. The rant endeth here.

Comments (19)

by Graeme Edgeler on February 11, 2011
Graeme Edgeler

Darn tootin'

by The Falcon on February 11, 2011
The Falcon

As someone who also plays a lot of football, I disagree. Football is a global game, unlike rugby which only has 5 or so competitive teams. People tend to forget this. The All Whites did us all proud, especially with that last minute goal against Slovakia.

Admittedly the games were very ugly to watch, but overall I think the AWs deserved the award.

by ScottY on February 11, 2011
ScottY

Andrew, allow me the right of reply.

As rants go, yours was superb. If there was a Halberg Award for ranting I would have voted for you :)

The Halberg Award recognises excellence in sport, not winning. The two things do not always have to go together.

It's true that no purist of the game would have regarded the All Whites matches as wonderful spectacles, but in fighting desperately for three draws against teams much more highly ranked than us, the All Whites showed an admirable resolve and team spirit, and they inspired the nation. They may have lacked somewhat in attack, but you don't get three draws in a World Cup by playing terribly. If nothing else it showed we had in Ryan Nelsen one of the best defenders in the game (and though I'm mainly a rugby man, I think Nelsen should have got the sportsman award ahead of McCaw).

I don't have a problem with people saying that the All Blacks, Kiwis, Silver Ferns or others should have won. It's just a stupid award, and it doesn't really matter in the end. But I do wonder why people are being so hard on the All Whites. During the World Cup they were our sporting heroes. Why are they a bunch of undeserving nobodies now?

by Ian MacKay on February 11, 2011
Ian MacKay

The Award was deserved by the All Whites. Excellence and tenacity and sportsmanship against the odds.

If it can only be given to those who win then then there is only a very small group who can be ellible. Rugby (to be the winners out of say 4 or 5 nations and if the All Blacks do not win the RWC then they will be inelligble next year.)  Netball (4-5 countries.) Rowing (bigger pool). Hockey (5-6 countries but they can't win.) And umm Cricket. Sorry chaps - never.

But wait. How about the Womens Rugby World Cup? Winners for about 3 years.

by Andrew Geddis on February 11, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Graeme,

Don't agree with me. It feels weird.

Falcon,

I recognise that there is a difference in scale involved ... but teams can only perform in the context of the competition that they have. And I think a dominant team that is setting the standards for all others in the sport to reach is a more "excellent" one than a group of noble strivers who do not try to exceed their limited potential, but instead build their whole game plan about not allowing a football game to break out. On that score, I'd have given the team award to the rowers Murray and Bond - dominant all year over all challengers in a truely competitive global sport.

ScottY,

I guess I should qualify my position - I wouldn't do a Tayler and quit over this call. (Yeah, right ... like I'd ever get the chance!) I also think it was a wrong call, as opposed to a completely indefensible, "oh my God how could they" one. And we agree re Ryan Nelson. But a man a team does not make, much less a supreme award winning team. As for being sporting heroes, I still admire them for the qualities of pluck/courage/commitment/etc. It's just they aren't a very good football team, let alone the most excellent sports performers of 2010.

by Matthew Parry on February 12, 2011
Matthew Parry

I think they took a leaf from the Nobel Prize committee's book: the All Whites were awarded the Halberg Prize in anticipation of a glittering future. Look what happened with Obama: since he won the Peace Prize, peace has broken out everywhere.

by Bruce Thorpe on February 12, 2011
Bruce Thorpe

I do not play football.

I detest the tag "All Whites."

I think sport is about striving to achieve, to excel, to extend ones skills, performance and finally to leave it all on the field.

This team was of lower technical standard than any of its opponenets.

But most disappointingly the team made fewer attempts to score a goal than any other team in the tournament. Disgraceful.

by Graeme Edgeler on February 12, 2011
Graeme Edgeler

Don't agree with me. It feels weird.

I agree with you frequently. I correct you occasionally :-)

The content of my posts just don't really match up.

It's rare that I'd make a comment the sole point of which is to say "I concur", but I felt like saying this somewhere, and here seemed the best place. Not least because it was the best written.

by Steven Price on February 12, 2011
Steven Price

Let me correct Andrew then. NZ won only one game in 2010 (Serbia, 1-0), drew four and lost five.

Goal aggregate: 5 for, 14 against.

On this performance, the All Blacks will be on track to win the Halberg next year if they fail to qualify for the RWC quarter-finals after drawing with Tonga, Canada and France in pool play, having won only one tri-nations match.

(I know, I know, not the same. But still fun to think about.)

by Andrew Geddis on February 12, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Steven,

You're right - I forgot the Bahrain qualification games were late 2009, and overlooked the two post-World Cup "friendlies".

The difference with the All Blacks is that they are expected to win every time they play, and we are far more discerning about the quality of their performances (and of rugby teams in general). Football was a novelty and a chance for NZers to think we finally were "on the map", "on the world stage", "world class", and all those other phrases that reveal our basic insecurity about our national status.

by Kyle Matthews on February 13, 2011
Kyle Matthews

I agree with your thoughts on the matter Andrew. Essentially the All Whites are being rewarded for having an OK year on a big stage in a sport that we recognise as being very competitive.

No one else in the awards got nominated, and indeed won so many awards for finishing outside the world's top 16, even given the worldwide nature of the sport. The Halberg definition of excellence clearly differs somewhat from my own.

I was actually less impressed with the sporting moment award, decided by popular vote. The winning goal was an OK goal, scored from an offside position, at a crucial time. It was no where near as great a moment as the World Cup winning try by the Kiwis, which was a stunner, nor as good as the Silver Ferns beating Australia in double overtime to win Commonwealth gold, another classic battle between the two greatest powers in the sport.

by Chris Murray on February 14, 2011
Chris Murray

I am not sure that the ABs should have won the Halberg, there were many strong team performances that did not involve kicking or passing a ball. But on the basis of this result the only way for them to win the award would be for them to win the World Cup.

It would have been almost impossible for them to be more dominant than they were in 2010.

The All Whites could be more dominant just by remembering that attack is an aspect of sport.

So the ABs at best could win the Halberg every four years, and then only if some also-ran does not have a year better than their normal level of mediocrity.

by Pat on February 14, 2011
Pat

The All Blacks, consistently ranked the best team in the world in its code, won a competition consisting of 3 teams (tri-nations), a competition consisting of 2 teams (Bledisloe), and 4 one-off games against teams ranked well below them (2 of which have never beaten them).

Forgive me for not getting excited, and I played rugby my whole life.  But performances at World Cups and Olympic Games are the pinnicle of a sport and carry more weight IMO.

I am happy the All Whites won but I think it was a close call - with the Silver Ferns, who won the competition that is the pinnicle of their sport.  However, the All Whites were one Chris Wood shot away from the final 16, which would have made the Halberg award not controversial at all, surely.

If the All Blacks win the World Cup, then it will be no contest.  Unless the Black Caps win the World Cup or the Warriors win the NRL.

by Andrew Geddis on February 14, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Pat,

"However, the All Whites were one Chris Wood shot away from the final 16, which would have made the Halberg award not controversial at all, surely."

Possibly. But by that reasoning, we were multiple Mark Paston saves away from losing all three games, which would have meant the All Whites wouldn't have been contenders at all. So we have to go on the performances produced and the results gained, not on hypotheticals ... don't we?

by Pat on February 14, 2011
Pat

Agreed.  But by Dick Taylor's reasoning, the top 16 would still have been good enough for a Halberg.  Or a top 8.  Or even a top 4.

To go to the biggest sporting tournament in the world as officially the worst team / the rank outsiders / the absolute minnows, and to draw with the world champions, and be the only team to go unbeaten in pool play, was an outstanding acheivement and well worthy of the team of the year.  This is a tournament NZ will never win, and in 100 years or so has only qualified twice to get there.  For Taylor to suggest they have to win to deserve a Halberg is a nonsense.

 

by Pat on February 14, 2011
Pat

...should read "top 16 would NOT have been good enough for a Halberg"

by Iain Butler on February 14, 2011
Iain Butler

Andrew, I'm a big fan of your work, but this is why shouldn't attempt to apply consitutional rigour to a popularity contest - it'll just do you're head in.

However, since you've leapt on this can of worms, tin-opener at the ready, I think the All Whites did deserve to finish ahead of the ABs, for the reasons that Pat gave.

The AWs were competitive in a tournament that mattered, the ABs performed their usual pre-World Cup ritual of lulling us into a false sense of superiority.

In terms of the Halberg criteria though, the Black Ferns win hands down. They didn't play a single game before the World Cup, then romped home, on the home soil of the pre-tournament favourites.

Good on the NZRU for recognising excellence, even if no-one else did.

by tussock on February 17, 2011
tussock

Dude, that single tactic they employed was the same one that wins all the world cups since the 70's. It's what got the young German team so far, it's how the Spanish played all the way through. Attacking in numbers is how you lose.

If they'd have had a world-class striker, they could have won. Well, not, but they would have made the last 16 easily. The AW's strikers just aren't fast enough to make use of the ball they sent forward. Oh, for a good Klose.

by Andrew Geddis on February 17, 2011
Andrew Geddis

tussock,

"Dude, that single tactic they employed was the same one that wins all the world cups since the 70's. It's what got the young German team so far, it's how the Spanish played all the way through. Attacking in numbers is how you lose."

Ummm ... no. Just no. To say that NZ's tactics and approach were in any way similar to Spain or Germany's is like saying this building is the same as this one on the basis that they both have walls and a roof.

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