Soccer: All Whites' costly defeat

By Michael Brown

Ricki Herbert labelled yesterday's result the worst in his seven-year coaching tenure with the national side. Photo / NZ Herald.
Ricki Herbert labelled yesterday's result the worst in his seven-year coaching tenure with the national side. Photo / NZ Herald.

The All Whites' defeat to New Caledonia yesterday was a costly one, not least of all because it robbed them of the chance to play at next year's Confederations Cup and the $1.3 million prizemoney that comes with it.

The past couple of years have been heady days for New Zealand Football and they earned $13 million for playing at the 2010 World Cup - the players pocketed 40 per cent of that - but they have missed out on another decent pay cheque.

That will now go to either New Caledonia and Tahiti and it will be the first time neither New Zealand nor Australia has represented Oceania at the Confederations Cup.

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert labelled yesterday's result the worst in his seven-year coaching tenure with the national side and it will bring back memories of New Zealand's abject showing at the 2004 Oceania Nations Cup when they were beaten 4-2 by Vanuatu and finished third behind Australia and the Solomon Islands.

Herbert was assistant coach for that campaign and it served as a wakeup call that the island sides couldn't be taken lightly.

They didn't underestimate them at this tournament. They simply weren't good enough.
The climactic conditions and brutal nature of the tournament didn't help but Herbert refused to blame those factors for his side's early exit even though his opposite identified it as one of the reasons New Caledonia ousted the favourites.

Today's game, won 2-0 by Les Cagous at Lawson Tama Stadium, was played in 34-degree heat and high humidity and came on the back of earlier games the All Whites played that were even more extreme - against Papua New Guinea the mercury tipped 39 degrees.

On top of that was the demanding schedule that required the top four teams to play five games in 10 days.

"I think the heat here has been a big problem for them," New Caledonia coach Alain Moizan said. "I don't think they acclimatised very well to the heat."

"It's all part of the learning curve," Herbert said.

"This was the card we were dealt and you have to come and do it. We will have chances when we play in our own country. You have all those climactic problems but on the day we weren't good enough.

"It's reality. We have come here and got beaten and we have to accept that. There's no other way to look at it. It just shows the importance of being good at tournaments like this. You have to be good enough to get through."

Somehow the All Whites will need to get themselves up for Sunday's third-placed playoff with the Solomon Islands. Both sides had visions of winning the tournament and securing a place at next year's Confederations Cup and, although they have moved through to the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers, Herbert isn't likely to play his first-choice side.

"It's not the game we want to play," he said. "It's here and we need to do it but I would suggest I would probably roll a lot of the young ones out again."

The squad players will be motivated to do well but the stuffing has been knocked out of the All Whites' campaign.

"We came here and wanted to win the tournament and to go out at this stage is very disappointing for us," New Zealand captain Tommy Smith said.

"I think we were outplayed on the day. I can't begrudge them the victory. They played better than us and it's our own fault, really."

- APNZ

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