Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Fifa's 'generous' gift does NZ no favours

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Fifa and New Zealand Football need to get their heads together to work out something more consistently exciting for the game here. Image / Rod Emmerson
Fifa and New Zealand Football need to get their heads together to work out something more consistently exciting for the game here. Image / Rod Emmerson

Is there a more generous governing body than Fifa with a more fortuitous recipient than New Zealand soccer?

Then again, looks are deceiving. New Zealand has been left to wet-nurse Oceania, Fifa's poor zone, and is going down the plughole in the process.

Soccer, the undisputed world game, gives the All Whites what amounts to a free pass into a World Cup finals playoff qualification contest. This occurs despite the All Whites being short of world class.

Yet as the top team in Oceania, which means stuff all, the All Whites are assured of a two-game deal every four years, which this time means playing Mexico, who finished fourth in the Concacaf region.

It's a brief feast, lots of famine and nothing much to snack on in between for All Whites supporters, with little to attract the floating voter.

In other words, this apparently generous situation is not doing New Zealand soccer any good. It places all the attention on just two games every four years - with only one of those at home - rather than spreading it out over a competitive zonal competition.

Moreover, cut-throat World Cup matches against Australia should be the centrepiece of our soccer but that has been lost since the Aussies moved to the Asian zone. That situation is probably the most ridiculous part of how soccer has ended up being shaped in this region.

And when the All Whites do get to the big show, a la facing Mexico next month, they are underprepared.

The All Whites have a number of ways to improve. The first involves getting players into the world's best leagues, but they also need better opposition than will ever be found in Oceania.

Rather than really helping New Zealand, Fifa is using it to keep Oceania - the game's worst region by a long way - alive, although barely kicking.

At least in the past, New Zealand could lure decent club and international sides to this country, but that is no longer the case in cynical times.

The attention the 2010 World Cup campaign brought for soccer has largely gone to waste. Momentum is lost. The euphoria is a distant memory. The sport is treading water yet again - there is a pall of pessimism hanging over the Mexico games and the junior world tournament results have been embarrassing.

When you look at the teams who will miss out on next year's World Cup in Brazil, it is unfathomable that New Zealand get so close, almost as a right. Having to fight harder in the first place, and knowing there will be a high-profile qualification series every four years, would be a much better scenario for Kiwi soccer.

Fifa and New Zealand Football need to get their heads together to work out something more consistently exciting for the game here. As the 1982 miracle showed, the qualification process can be as wondrous, even more so, than what happens in the final tournament.

A key indicator has been the absence of public scrutiny around coach Ricki Herbert. He has muddled his way through the undergrowth since 2010 virtually unchallenged because no one outside the inner soccer fraternity cares two hoots. I can't claim to have the answer beyond the simplistic concept of integrating New Zealand into the Asian zone. Acknowledging that the current system doesn't work is a good start.

On the Mexican qualification games - maybe all is not lost. Soccer is the one football code where a team that is swamped can still win or draw. The All Whites were outplayed by Bahrain and still made the finals in 2010. During the finals in South Africa, they drew with world champions Italy even though all the statistical indicators showed they should have been annihilated.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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