Contributed by: Brett Northey
At the Wangaratta Showgrounds the New Zealand Falcons displayed a brand of football that may be the best yet seen in international footy, ruthlessly disposing of Samoa and sending a message to the other semi-finalists.
The Kiwis and Samoans went toe to toe at the start, with the Haka being answered by the Siva Tau. The two challenging teams chanted with passion and came chest to chest in the centre of the ground, with players from both sides refusing to back down and a buzz of excitement running through the crowd. The heavens opened and there was a burst of heavy rain but the quality field coped well, as did the New Zealanders.
Right from the opening bounce their crisp use of the ball was amazing. They sent 1 or 2 players into packs and got 1 or 2 more standing off to receive the handball or chip kick. The vision of the players in the packs was outstanding and probably 75% of possessions on the day found their team-mates, a sensational conversion rate. On top of that the New Zealand bodies were strong and their kicking for goal immaculate.
The Falcons ultimately won by 71 points in a highlights-packed matched. The scary thing was that the Samoans played at a similar level to what they had for the rest of the tournament - a level that had earnt them two wins and a narrow loss. Of the few highlights for them was a huge pack mark by star player and captain Fia Tootoo, and a long goal from outside 50m from Paul Maalona. For New Zealand the whole team played well, but eye catching were the perfectly balanced captain Andrew Congalton, blonde forward James Bowden who marked well in traffic, and the industrious Andrew Marsden (and not just because of his mohawk).
With a good draw, the Falcons have steadily built their momentum and look unbeatable. They take on the much improved USA in their semi-final and it is difficult to see how the Americans could win. The Kiwis look to be in a league of their own, undefeated after 4 rounds with a percentage of 581 and playing a standard of football unmatched by the other countries. Perhaps the best chance for the Revolution would be heavy rain and the smaller oval at Murphy Reserve becoming boggy. World Footy News spoke with top AFL talent scout and manager Kevin Sheehan, and he was was very impressed with the New Zealanders, suggesting some could make VFL level. Against the hype we're reporting here is their solid loss to Victorian country side Maffra earlier in the year, but that should be put in context - Maffra are a champion side in a powerful league, undefeated for several years, and New Zealand were out of season playing their first match together - a rematch now would be very interesting. It's tough to see any of the other countries here stopping their surge to the 2005 International Cup trophy.
New Zealand 16.2 (98)
Samoa 4.3 (27)
World Footy News