Michael Burgess ' Opinion

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Japan match points way for NZ football's future

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All White Ryan Thomas in action against Japan. Photo / Getty Images.
All White Ryan Thomas in action against Japan. Photo / Getty Images.

It's time for New Zealand football to embrace Asia.

While qualifying paths to the next World Cup are unclear (that will play out over the next 12 months within Fifa, and the Asia and Oceania confederations), New Zealand Football needs to chase the opportunities offered by the world's most populous continent.

The recent friendly against Japan demonstrated the possibilities; a match in front of a big crowd that would have satisfied both confederations from a financial point of view.

Everybody, from players to coaching staff and NZF, recognise the All Whites need more matches. It's a chicken and egg situation - they can't be more competitive and raise their ranking without playing more but the cost of friendlies, especially at home, is prohibitive, partly due to their low ranking.

Asia is the answer. Under new chief executive Andy Martin, NZF need to look at the possibilities within Asia, especially against big nations such as Japan, South Korea, China and Iran.

The friendly against Jamaica in February 2012 was believed to cost nearly $500,000. It attracted a solid crowd to Mt Smart but not enough for a profit. What about focusing on countries that have large migrant populations here?

Imagine a match against Korea in Auckland. With 35,000 Koreans living in the city, you could expect 10,000 of them to cheer on The Reds, a big step towards a healthy crowd. You could leverage the game around the many Korean companies doing business here, such as Samsung and Hyundai.

There are also around 15,000 Japanese living in New Zealand and fans may turn out for a rare chance to see Samurai Blue.

China is slightly different - their football team has been an under-achiever on the world stage - but even if 10 per cent of the Chinese population of Auckland (in excess of 100,000) attended a match, it would represent a healthy gate.

For matches at home and especially away, NZF may also court Government assistance. The Government was a huge driver of the 2012 match in Shanghai last year, as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the relationship between New Zealand and China; Japan and Korea remain important trading partners. Football diplomacy is big in most parts of Asia and NZF needs to play that card.

It's also good timing. The All Whites are no longer just a physical, direct team. They have skilful players who can keep possession, the kind that Asian audiences enjoy and the type that could draw a crowd.

Increased engagement would reflect our population, especially in Auckland, where those who identify as Asian have increased from 14.6 per cent in 2001 to 23 per cent in the 2011 census .

New Zealand hasn't played Korea since 2000 and before that way back in 1984. Aside from the recent friendly, clashes with Japan have been similarly limited.

A game at the 2003 Confederations Cup was the first since a home-and-away series in 1983. The All Whites have faced China twice in the past three years but before that only four times since that epic World Cup play-off in 1982.

- Herald on Sunday

Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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