Soccer: Players prefer Wellington for World Cup playoff

By Kris Shannon

The All Whites players are adamant where they want November's home leg of the inter-continental World Cup playoff to be played. Photo / Getty Images.
The All Whites players are adamant where they want November's home leg of the inter-continental World Cup playoff to be played. Photo / Getty Images.

New Zealand Football is yet to decide which city will host November's crucial World Cup qualifier, but the All Whites have made clear their preference for Wellington.

Westpac Stadium in the capital and Auckland's Eden Park are the two options for the high-stakes playoff against an as-yet known Central American opposition, with the debate essentially boiling down to history versus increased revenue.

Having hosted the All Whites' last game of this magnitude, the famous win over Bahrain in 2009, Wellington has emerged as the players' choice according to NZF Players' Association member Harry Ngata.

But NZF is trying to avoid the emotion surrounding the game which booked New Zealand's ticket for the 2010 World Cup, and the lure of Eden Park's superior capacity means the decision is far from straightforward.

NZF would be confident of selling out either venue and any boost in gate revenue would be dwarfed in comparison to the prize - both financial and footballing - of making a second straight World Cup.

Ngata said the All Whites players had long been speculating over the venue for the playoff and they were in almost unanimous agreement about where they would feel most confident.

"We weren't counting our chickens or anything, but before the Oceania qualifiers finished there was certainly talk from the senior players about where NZF were looking,'' Ngata said. "The players would be happier if it's Wellington, but if it's Eden Park so be it. They'll play anywhere, but the preference would be for Wellington.''

That preference lies largely with Wellington's reputation as the `home of football' in this country and, just like in 2009, several members of the All Whites squad play at Westpac Stadium every other week with the Phoenix.

The All Whites will certainly be underdogs against the fourth-ranked Concacaf side - the identity of the nation will be unknown until October - and they will be looking for every advantage they can get for the November 19 match.

"I think Wellington's got history there,'' Ngata said. ``From an NZF perspective, they're obviously going to generate a bit more revenue if they have it at Eden Park with an extra 15,000 seats. That could be another $800,000 to $1 million, I would think, it terms of through the register for NZF.

"But you've got to weigh up, bottom line, we need to win this game. Where's the best chance for the players to actually do that job again?''

NZF chief executive Grant McKavanagh said the players' preference "came into the mix'' but was only one of a number of factors his organisation was considering.

"We're really trying to look at the whole perspective objectively. We're looking to get plans from the various stadiums as to how it would operate. That will go into the mix, with where the players want to play, logistics and a whole bunch of other things.''

McKavanagh wouldn't put a timeframe on the decision but he said he would like a venue to be confirmed sooner rather than later.

"We're working to a timeframe but we certainly want to get it out as early as possible so people can get themselves organised, because we know there's a lot of people around the county who will want to travel to be part of the game.''

- APNZ

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