'Godfather' Vicelich reflects on his tunnel vision

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014
Ivan Vicelich
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ

GOOD MEMORIES: Former All White Ivan Vicelich has opened a sports business in Auckland.

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Four years on, Ivan Vicelich still gets a shiver down his spine when he thinks of Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.

Lining up ahead of New Zealand's World Cup opener against Slovakia, the enormity of the moment had hit home; the culmination of a life-long dream that had seemed dead a year earlier.

But, having had his arm twisted by coach Ricki Herbert, Vicelich's decision to come out of international retirement was about to pay rich dividends as he played a key role in the All Whites' historic, unbeaten 2010 World Cup campaign.

"It was very surreal," Vicelich recalled.

"Lining up in the tunnel we had a brief time to think and reflect on what it all meant. The dream of every young player around the world had come true for us Kiwis walking out onto that field.

"When you are a kid, you think it's going to be easy to play in a World Cup but you soon learn how difficult it is. That reflection in the tunnel was a special moment."

As was the dramatic ending to the game itself.

Winston Reid scored a late goal to secure a 1-1 draw, a surprise result that was surpassed by a 1-1 shocker against defending champions Italy and then a scoreless stalemate with Paraguay.

Vicelich remembers the Ryan Nelsen-led team growing in belief throughout the qualifying campaign.

That positive vibe increased further with encouraging warmup results, including a breakthrough 1-0 win over Serbia.

"That helped build resilience in the team. Walking out for that first game, we were quietly confident that if we played our best we could sneak something. It proved to be the start of a great campaign."

Known as The Godfather, Vicelich retired in January as New Zealand's most-capped player.

The 37-year-old still plays for Auckland City and has opened a business, Playmaker Sports.

He is an avid football fan but admits it will be difficult watching this World Cup from afar after the All Whites were soundly beaten by Mexico in last year's qualifiers.

"Realistically, we probably only had a 10-15 per cent chance, over two legs, of qualifying against a team like that. It's a little bit surreal now sitting at home thinking we were there four years ago, playing good football and getting good results. But hopefully that disappointment will drive the guys for the next cycle."

Vicelich believed the overall state of New Zealand football was reasonably healthy and said the national league continued to grow in quality.

"But we're talking about the world's No 1 sport, and in New Zealand it isn't. So there's always going to be difficulties. But participation at kids level is strong and people love talking football when they come into the shop. What's really great is we're hosting the under-20 World Cup next year. They are the next generation of superstars, and the quality and flair will blow people away."

All Whites captain Glen Moss, who was backup to goalkeeping hero Mark Paston in South Africa, is determined to help right the wrongs of the failed 2014 campaign.

"Four years has gone quick and there are so many good memories," Moss said.

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"The disappointing thing is we haven't really kicked on from there, if anything we've gone a little bit backward and downhill. But we've now got a fresh new squad and management team, so the only way is up from here."

- The Dominion Post

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