Soccer: Honiara horror causes more hurt

By Michael Brown

The All Whites have their eyes on a trip to Brazil in 12 months' time but what might they give to be in South America right now?

New Zealand missed out on qualifying for the Confederations Cup because of the the Horror in Honiara when they finished third at last year's Oceania Nations Cup. Tahiti won through, beating New Caledonia in the final, and opened their Confederations Cup campaign this morning as Oceania's representatives with a 6-1 defeat to African champions Nigeria.

"Hoping Tahiti do well but I must admit it hurts to be watching this and not being there,'' All Whites striker Jeremy Brockie tweeted this morning. It would have been a view shared by at least 20 other New Zealand players.

The equation gets even more daunting for Tahiti with games against Uruguay and Spain to follow.

It wouldn't have been an easy assignment for the All Whites but it would have been invaluable, especially with what is taking place in November.

The Confederations Cup isn't rated particularly highly in world football but it would have been ideal preparation for the intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from North and Central America.

Not only would they have played three games against quality opposition, as well as a couple of warmups, but they would also have been in camp together for a fortnight.

And it would have all been for free, given Sepp Blatter picks up the tab.

Instead, New Zealand Football are trying to map out the next five months which will probably see a match against an Asian side in August, a four-team tournament in Saudi Arabia in September and two internationals in October they are hoping replicates the rapid-fire home-and-away playoff.

It's a costly exercise, and all has to come from NZF's coffers. Their relatively healthy bank account relies a lot on the US$10 million windfall they pocketed from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup (40 per cent of that was shared among the players) and the upcoming playoff is important on so many levels.

Right now the players are mostly on holiday. The exceptions are Brockie, who's playing under Ryan Nelsen at Toronto FC, Tim Payne and Cameron Howieson, who are preparing for next week's Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, and fringe midfielder Dan Keat who's playing in the Swedish second division.

Some are in pre-season training, like the Wellington Phoenix players who started last week, while others like Tony Lochhead are searching for new clubs.

Playing at the Confederations Cup helped put the All Whites in the public's consciousness and it would have been a valuable marketing tool for the November game.

NZF are due to make a decision on the venue of the home game by the end of the month but they might have already locked in the host city if the All Whites were at the Confederations Cup.

Wellington is expected to get the nod over Auckland but playing on the minds of NZF bosses is the fact they could make more money playing at Eden Park and there are no guarantees of qualifying for the World Cup.

Four years ago, the All Whites played six games in the space of 18 days four months out from the intercontinental playoff. They had warmups against Tanzania (1-2), Botswana (0-0) and Italy (3-4) before taking on Spain (0-5), South Africa (0-2) and Iraq (0-0) at the Confederations Cup. They then played only one more game against Jordan (3-1) before taking on Bahrain in the World Cup playoff.

They might have preferred another game then but didn't really need to because of the Confederations Cup. Sadly, they don't have that luxury this time around.

- APNZ

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