Anendra Singh: Kicking around in heat can be bonus

By Anendra Singh

Only A few months ago I embarrassingly took a soft option.

On an Air New Zealand junket to cover the Golden Oldies netball tournament at a Nadi resort, in Fiji, I sought refuge under the shade of a tropical tree, preferring to make small talk with former Silver Ferns defender Vilimaina Davu.

Boy, was it stinking hot? We sweated like hogs, watching teams of predominantly crazy middle-aged women (including some from Hawke's Bay) trying to prove a point in bibs after a night of roast pork and stinging curry washed down with beer and white wine rapidly losing its fizz.

It was the sort of stuff that would put in check the gimmickry of any underarm deodorant manufacturer worth its salt.

Having grown up in that humidity and played barefoot soccer on tar-sealed roads with a tennis ball in Suva, I shuddered at the thought of what my former Fijian neighbourhood mates would say if they caught me ducking for cover.

Having lived in New Zealand for more than two decades, my constitution has changed so much that I must accept I'm a softie.

Consequently I have a fair idea of how the All Whites felt while competing in the Oceania Federation Cup tournament in Honiara, Solomon Islands, last week.

Yes, it was like a series of sauna sessions and, yes, they played on the same ground with bald, sticky patches emerging near the goalmouth area.

I mean, there is no argument about the heat when the locals start looking for pivotal perches on the ground.

Having said that, it's feeble to argue Honiara or Fiji shouldn't have hosted the tourney.

If anything, the Ricki Herbert-coached New Zealanders should make it a habit of travelling to the islands each year to play internationals against their South Pacific neighbours.

One, it takes the Kiwis out of their comfort zone.

Okay, the 2014 Brazil Cup, should we qualify, won't be so bad in June/July weather wise.

Russia, in 2018, may be a case in point when mid-20C could hit 30C-plus through unpredictable heat wave.

Qatar, despite all the talk of air-conditioned stadia, doesn't mean it'll be easy moving around in the desert-like conditions in 2022.

Conversely, Pacific Island teams and players have similar challenges adapting to winter venues such as New Zealand, which explains why the All Whites are cock-a-hoop about qualifying for the Brazil World Cup with relative ease.

It's called home advantage.

To play all the games last week at Lawson Tama Park, in Honiara, is no different to hosting national age-group tourneys at Park Island, Napier, only to find torrential rain makes the surface not only challenging but unplayable at times.

For those who have played at myriad venues the experience will be invaluable.

Despite the alarmist attitude to losing to New Caledonia, New Zealand soccer fans shouldn't be surprised.

It's not shocking at all that New Zealand lost to the French state and struggled against others despite getting through by the skin of their teeth in some matches.

Just like rugby, the islands have an exciting array of skills evident in the likes of Waitakere United striker Roy Krishna and Wellington United winger Benjamin Totori.

With a lack of resources and world-class coaching, some of the players remain uncut diamonds, as it were, unless they leave their shores for a developed country. If last Sunday's third/fourth play-offs is anything to go by, it's evident the island nations aren't always watertight in defence.

Not having tall timber in the back line and a goalkeeper who is barely half the height of an upright, the Solomon Islanders were always going to come up short.

What they lacked in height they made up with speed and skills.

Imagine where the South Pacific brand of soccer would be with an amicable marriage between New Zealand's defence and an island-style midfield and attack, pushing the ball out wide and turning it across the face of the goalmouth.

While the predominantly English influence must be commended for providing a steady foundation for making the game popular in a country where rugby is the national sport, it is also imperative to recognise where the future lies in the game if New Zealand will ever become a force on the global stage.

Standing in a shady spot like Davu and I, certainly won't be the path to achieving that goal.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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