With the opening game of the World Cup happening to my left as I write, I find myself wondering about how well New Zealand will play at the event.
New Zealand has been the focus of joke-making all over the footballing world, having reached the finals by beating the likes of Vanuatu and Bahrain - while multiple teams in Europe and South America, with a far better pedigree than NZ, remain at home. But as they say, "you play to the whistle" - and NZ has played by the rules and here we are. Simply marvelous. [Although I can't see the rules staying as they are - so let's enjoy it while it lasts].
While there is plenty of optimism around, we do need to be realistic about NZ's chances. Before a game is even played here is how I would assess NZ's results:
Making it to the second round. This would be remarkable and go down as one of the great achievements in our sporting history.
Winning a game in the opening round. [As I understand it, this does not necessarily lead to making it into the second round]. Regardless of what happens in the other games this would be a result to savour.
Gaining two draws in the three games played in the opening round - and maybe scoring some memorable goals which my grandchildren will watch again and again on TV.
Gaining one draw AND keeping the 'goal difference' (the difference between the number of goals scored against NZ and the goals scored by NZ) below three. In other words we compete fully, we are not embarassed, no team beats us by more than two goals - and (hopefully) we score some nice goals ourselves.
Gaining one draw, but the total goal difference rises to more than three.
Gaining one draw, but the total goal difference rises to more than seven. In other words we scratch out one good result but are embarassed badly in at least one other game, demonstrating that we do not really belong in the game at this level.
Losing all three games in the round robin but we are competitive in all of them - scoring some goals ourselves and keeping the total goal difference to less than five.
Losing all three games, the goal difference rises above five, but we do score a memorable goal - and in this our fans and media will delight for forever.
Losing all three games, the goal difference rises above five - and we score no goals at all.
We are embarassed, losing all three games with a total goal difference rising above nine.