Editorial: Soccer must build on Cup success

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All Whites striker Shane Smeltz in action against Chile. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Whites striker Shane Smeltz in action against Chile. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Credibility is hard earned in any walk of life, not least sport. It is the biggest reward to come from the All Whites' World Cup campaign that ended yesterday in elimination after a 0-0 draw with Paraguay.

To be unbeaten in three pool matches, and to finish above Italy, the reigning world champions, was a superb achievement.

No more will New Zealand have to suffer the derision that was aimed its way when its soccer team arrived in South Africa. The All Whites have now stamped their mark as worthy opponents on any international stage.

Profiting from that is crucial if the game is to benefit from the momentum generated by the Cup run. New Zealand's appearance at the 1982 World Cup did not generate the anticipated shot in the arm.

But that campaign involved three heavy defeats, which did little for the All Whites' reputation. This time, there will be no shortage of invitations to play international fixtures during Fifa windows.

If New Zealand aspires to even better results, these must be accepted at every opportunity. Playing at the highest level is the surest way of moulding a strong team and developing a style of play with fewer limitations.

In that respect, New Zealand's soccer administrators also have an important decision to make about this country's continued presence in the Oceania Confederation.

It granted the All Whites a relatively straightforward passage to South Africa and means almost guaranteed qualification to Fifa competitions at all levels for New Zealand men's and women's teams.

But, as Australia recognised in transferring to the Asia zone, there are considerable drawbacks in qualifying against the likes of New Caledonia and Fiji.

In that respect, of course, the All Whites' performances in South Africa were all the more meritorious.

Competing regularly in Asia against the likes of Japan, Korea, Australia and Bahrain will only improve standards. No less a person than Ryan Nelsen, the All Whites' inspirational captain, says as much.

Asked recently what was the best qualification route for New Zealand, he replied: "Asia, 100 per cent. We have to be involved with Asia somehow for the long-term good."

New Zealand, quite simply, must leave the comfort of the Oceania Confederation, whether at its own behest or as the result of a change in the qualification format orchestrated by Fifa.

Individual players will also benefit from the credibility won by the All Whites. The likes of Nelsen, Winston Reid and Tommy Smith earned overseas contracts despite coming from New Zealand, a country with virtually no soccer pedigree.

The path is now open for more youngsters to find their ways on to the books of leading clubs. In that regard, it is important that all those people involved in player development sing in tune.

The World Cup success should be the catalyst for the likes of Wynton Rufer and Kevin Fallon to be drawn back into the mainstream. The number of youngsters playing the game every Saturday morning is a big plus.

But for too long, the sport has been hampered by infighting and personality clashes.

Amid the present euphoria, expectations should be kept to a realistic level. An outstanding set of players has achieved far more than seemed possible, thanks, largely, to sturdy and resilient defending.

Creative midfielders able to carve out goal-scoring opportunities are required for the All Whites to move to the next level. Such figures are a rarity in world soccer, let alone in a country boasting a small number of professional players.

The main achievement of the 2010 All Whites was the road they laid for the emergence and development of such talented individuals.

- NZ Herald

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