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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

My favourite World Cup moment: When New Zealand were unbeatable at South Africa 2010

The All Whites proved their nation can play more than just rugby 

Tommy Smith and Chris Wood of New Zealand celebrate with team mates after a draw in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between Italy and New Zealand at the Mbombela Stadium on June 20, 2010 in Nelspruit. Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
Tommy Smith and Chris Wood of New Zealand celebrate with team mates after a draw in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between Italy and New Zealand at the Mbombela Stadium on June 20, 2010 in Nelspruit. Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

In a shocking revelation that might shake the very foundations of all you know about New Zealand: rugby is not the only sport we play.

In fact, one might even say we were the best-performing country in the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa - being the only undefeated team in the tournament. Sure, we didn't actually win a game either - but we've so far succeeded in conveniently burying that line in the eight years since our most golden footballing run in recent memory.

2010 was a great year for little old New Zealand. It was the year Taika Waititi's homegrown smash-hit Boy was released; the Richie McCaw-led All Blacks spent June running riot over Ireland, Wales and Wales again, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy had just been released in box set form. But all this paled in comparison to what was about to take place, for this was the month the All Whites (yes, football's monochromatic answer to the All Blacks) finally earned their place at only the second World Cup they had qualified for since 1970.

It was just over a year after we'd taken on the fifth placed team from the Asian qualifiers, Bahrain, to earn our fairytale spot in the tournament. Interestingly, it just so happens that Oceania is the only confederation that does not have an automatic place in the finals. Fifa only came to its senses and rectified that last year. But, I digress.

New Zealand arrived on South African soil with the weight of a nation on its shoulders - for we're obviously no stranger to completely over-amplifying any event on the world stage we're invited to take part in. Most of us didn't actually think we'd advance beyond the pool stage - we're just great at bandwagon jumping when we perform marginally well in something other than rugby.

Our first match, against Slovakia, left us with a convincing 1-1 draw - during which, 21-year-old debutante Winston Reid sent the entire country into raptures when he punted a header into the net in the dying seconds. It was about that moment that Kiwis everywhere rubbed their bleary eyes and a new thought dawned on them: could we actually advance?! Things reached fever pitch when we walked away from our next game against 2006 champions Italy with another 1-1 draw. New Zealand were pariahs no more. It was about that stage that we decided we were definitely going to win the whole thing.

Our final match was against Paraguay, and though we remained goalless, so did our opponents. Shellshocked, the country took stock of what had just occurred: we'd come away from the group stage completely unbeaten (and yet, cough, also without winning a game). It didn't matter that we didn't advance from the group stage. We went down in history as the only unbeaten team - a point we haven't let the footballing world forget since.

Besides, we consoled ourselves with the fact that the first round also took out the 2006 champions (Italy), the 2006 runners-up (France), and the hosts (South Africa) - the latter the first time to happen in the event's history. I should probably also mention we were the only undefeated team in the tournament.

Could this be our next rugby, the nation collectively wondered?

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My favourite World Cup moment: Michael Laudrup and the Danish Dynamite at Mexico 86

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Well, no, as it turns out. In the 2014 inter-confederation play-off, we lost to Mexico, who despite their poor form, toppled us quite convincingly. And in 2017, our next shot at qualifying ended in heartbreak again when Peru ended a 36-year World Cup appearance drought by beating us 2-0.

And yet, in the years since our 2010 dream run, New Zealand football has reached new heights. Ryan Nelsen went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur. Chris Wood went to Burnley, and Winston Reid - he of the match-saving header against Slovakia - might be our most famous export of all, having gone on to see his name in lights at West Ham United, and to captain the All Whites. Even the unthinkable happened. The All Whites trounced all over the All Blacks at New Zealand's national sporting awards, the Halberg awards, including taking out team of the year.

Sure, a few months later the Tri Nations arrived and New Zealand momentarily forgot we'd ever had a football team - but the point will forever stand.

Did I mention the time we were the only undefeated team at a World Cup?

Ashleigh Stewart is a Home Page Editor at The National