In December last year I wrote:
“Italy are ranked #4 in the world and are defending champions. Expectations will correctly be low when we play them.
But, I fear, by the time the matches actually start there will be a number of people who will expect to see the All Whites compete against the other two teams in our pool.”
And, sure enough… after the stunning win against Serbia on the weekend some journalists here are starting to dream the dream.
For example, Tony Smith, in this mornings Dominion Post:
“Serbia are a better side than Slovakia, New Zealand’s first-up opponents in South Africa on June 15, and are probably at least the equal of Paraguay.
Could Ricki Herbert’s class of 2010 become the first New Zealand team to win a game at a Fifa senior tournament and qualify for the second round?
You wouldn’t have thought so a week ago. But bookmakers around the world may be rapidly revising their odds.”
Dylan Cleaver in the NZ Herald, with tongue firmly in cheek, goes further and outlines the All Whites’ path to glory:
“The All Whites’ path to the semifinals is relatively straightforward.
A 3-0 win over Slovakia (they’re not even as good as Serbia), in the opening group game will be followed by a gritty, Ryan Nelsen-inspired, goalless draw against an Italian team resting its best players. Paraguay will be no match for the aerial assault and are brushed aside 3-1.”
I think it’s usually better to have low expectations and exceed them. And, especially when it comes to World Cups. You’d think that sports journalists, of all people, would have learnt that lesson by now. Or, perhaps, the headlines they can write when the team falls short of those massively inflated expectations are better as a result – who knows?
Either way, comparing this result to “Russia beating the All Blacks” (as Tony Smith does in the article linked above) seems fanciful if not hyperbolic.
Is it? Here are some facts:
FIFA ranks 202 countries – from Brazil at #1 to Papua New Guinea at #202.
IRB ranks 95 countries by comparison – from the All Blacks somehow at #1 (how?) to mighty Finland at #95.
So, the All Whites (current FIFA ranking: #78) beating Serbia (current FIFA ranking: #15) is the football equivalent of Moldova (current IRB ranking: #36) beating England (current IRB ranking: #7) in rugby. Imagine that!
Or, if you want to consider the gap in the rankings between the two teams, then it’s the equivalent of Tunisia (current IRB ranking: #29) beating the All Blacks. Russia by comparison has an IRB ranking of #19.
Either of those would be an outrageous result, even in a friendly game, and especially a couple of weeks prior to a big tournament, would be big news.
And yet the All Whites remain 1000-to-1 to win the World Cup. :-)
Bring on Slovakia, I say! I’ll be watching. You?
(*) On the outside chance that you’re interested in and/or confused by my maths… I just adjusted the FIFA rankings to take into account that there are less than half as many teams represented in the IRB rankings, so a FIFA ranking of 78 out of 202 teams corresponds to an IRB ranking of 36 out of 95 teams, and a gap of 63 places out of 202 teams on the FIFA list corresponds to a gap of 29 places out of 95 teams on the IRB list.