Attention World Cup minnows.
Yes you, Costa Rica.
You too, Australia.
If you’re to emulate New Zealand’s improbable run at the 2010 World Cup, the man who captained the All Whites in South Africa has a message for you: "Make s--- up."
No, really. Completely tear down the opposition before you enter group play this week.
Four years ago, current Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen led lowly New Zealand to a perfect 0-0-3 record in group games against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.
The Kiwis were the only team to remain unbeaten in the tournament after eventual champs Spain lost to Switzerland early in the competition.
"That’s the cool thing about it," Nelsen told the Sun. "We were the jokes."
Funnily enough, it was Nelsen’s sense of humour — his leadership — that actually led to three of the most shocking results in World Cup history.
"We did video on certain teams we were playing against," Nelsen explained.
Except instead of zeroing in on his opponents’ weaknesses, the 36-year-old took preparations in a different direction.
"I’d say, ‘I know this guy. He’s s---. He’s not very good. He buckles under pressure in big games.’
"I’d tell my teammates, ‘I’d rather have you guys on my team than this guy.’"
You know, guys such as Italy’s Antonio Di Natale or Alberto Gilardino.
"Those guys happened to be worth about 20 million pounds," Nelsen said with a laugh.
"I’d just make up s--- to give my teammates confidence that when they went out there, they maximized their ability. We all went out there 6-foot-4 with our chests puffed out."
Ahead of New Zealand’s opening game against Slovakia, Nelsen doesn’t deny he was the only person on the planet that thought the 78th-ranked All Whites could get through the group.
"Oh yeah," Nelsen admitted. "Exactly.
"People said a European powerhouse should have gone in our place."
Against the solid Slovakians on Matchday 1, New Zealand — which doesn’t have its own professional league — provided one of the thrills of the tournament when defender Winston Reid rose to head home a cross in stoppage time to give the Kiwis their first-ever World Cup point, a lifeline.
As a result, Nelsen said he knew they’d have a chance to advance no matter what happened against Italy five days later.
After all, New Zealand was expected to get run off the field. The Italians, the holders at the time, were one of the best groups on paper at the entire tournament.
The Azzuri entered the tournament 12-1 to win the whole thing while New Zealand was at the bottom at a laughable 750-1.
"The Italy media were laughing at us," Nelsen said. "The worst thing you can do to a New Zealander is be arrogant against them."
It only fuelled Nelsen’s fire. It gave the underdogs ammunition in a game they had no business being in. It saw New Zealand turn a bunch of world-class talents into tournament clowns.
"Because they tried to demean us, we played the best game a New Zealand team will ever play," Nelsen said. "On the world stage, to draw 1-1 with Italy, while the world was laughing at us, was pretty special."
A goal away from advancing, New Zealand slogged to a goalless draw with Paraguay on the final day of group play. Had they managed to find another miracle goal, the All Whites would have met Japan in the Round of 16.
"I don’t think we could have gotten an ounce more out of any individual," Nelsen reflected. "I think that’s what everybody respects. Every little bit of sweat and tears were left on the field."
Four years later, Nelsen tells the Sun he draws on many of the little nuances he picked up in 2010 as he looks to get Toronto FC into the post-season for the first time in club history.
It’s about refusing to settle — and instilling a mindset that makes believers out of those who think the odds are insurmountable.
"It was such an achievement to get to the World Cup," Nelsen said. "I didn’t want to just be there. So I said if we’re going to be here, we’re going to do it properly and we’re going to try and get through the group. There was a mentality that if we’re going to go down we at least would have ticked every box we could."
The most important of which was convincing 22 other men of something the rest of the world thought unimaginable.
Even if it forced the All Whites’ captain to tell a white lie or two.