Ryan Nelsen Leads New Zealand's Suprising World Cup Run

June 21, 2010

South Africa - Coming into the 2010 World Cup, New Zealand was an afterthought, expected to be handled by more experienced international squads. However, led by Stanford graduate Ryan Nelsen as captain, New Zealand has impressed, recently earning a draw with defending World Champion Italy.

Nelsen was a 2000 All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year for Stanford before turning pro. He was a first round pick of D.C. United in Major League Soccer before eventually heading to Europe. Nelsen is currently the captain of the Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League.

The All Whites, as New Zealand is known, opened with a 1-1 draw with Slovakia to the earn the first point in the nation's brief World Cup history. The second match was supposed to be one of the biggest mismatches of the World Cup with New Zealand taking on the defending champion Italians, a team full of international superstars.

However, the Kiwis scored an early goal to take a 1-0 lead. The Italians tied the game in the 28th minute after a questionable call set up a penalty kick. The goal would seem to give Italy momentum to take control of the upstart New Zealand side, but the Kiwi defense led by Nelsen hung strong and would not allow a go-ahead goal, preserving the draw. The game was the greatest result in New Zealand soccer history and one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

With a pair of draws, New Zealand now has an unexpected opportunity to advance to the knockout round. The Kiwis will advance with a win in its final group stage match against Paraguay.

Watch a postgame intervew with Nelsen.

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