Qualifying for South Africa was already enough, but the team’s exploits have raised expectations that a return at Brazil 2014 is probable, rather than possible.
The goalless draw with Paraguay added to increasing belief after the remarkable deadlock of outgoing world champions Italy.
Three points was beyond initial expectation and set up potential qualification from the final game at Polokwane as an unexpected bonus.
Already legends in the Kiwi game, an unbeaten run through the group stage confirmed the 2010 All Whites as the nation’s best ever representative team.
The last 16 may have been a step too far, but the last 12months have been a golden period.
A once-in-a-lifetime spell in 2009 began with World Cup qualification, continued with the Wellington Phoenix’s best ever A League campaign completed with an impressive showing at the global showpiece.
The only blip on the radar was the failure of a New Zealand team to reach the Club World Cup. Hekari United of Papua New Guinea displaced local giants Auckland and Waitakere to the UAE based tournament.
And therein lies the rub.
The nation’s leading players reached a career peak. New Zealand raised players such as Winston Reid, Rory Fallon and Tommy Smith impressed as players who could help the team reach 2014.
But after the headlines pale into the background, football remains down the Kiwi pecking order.
The leading ‘brand’ - Wellington Phoenix - plays in Australia’s national league.
Nothing wrong with that. Welsh teams have enjoyed competitive parity with English peers for a century but New Zealand’s football community cannot wait three decades between drinks again.
An enthusiastic supporter and player base deserves competitive top teams.
The nation can produce the players and supporters – but New Zealand cannot afford to lose the momentum.
New Zealand didn’t back up their appearance at 1982 and a period of isolation was the result.
Football must thrive – from park games to pro level. This opportunity must be taken.
Beyond the US, New Zealand and Australia are the only nations of the 32 qualifiers for 2010 where football struggles for coverage.
Both teams – eventually – proved their worth at the top level.
Now NZ Football and all stakeholders must reinforce the foundations to ensure future All Whites have a leading stage to perform on.