Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Football: Everything targeted at winning in November - Anthony Hudson

New Zealand Football All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand Football All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Anthony Hudson is dreaming big in 2017.

The All Whites coach isn't afraid of Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador or even Argentina.

In fact, Hudson believes his team can beat whichever South American side they will face, should they progress to the intercontinental World Cup playoffs in November.

New Zealand have a few hurdles to overcome before then, starting with two fixtures against Fiji in March. If the All Whites progress unscathed, they'll face a two-legged playoff with Tahiti, the Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea to decide the top-ranked Oceania team.

The "prize" is intimidating - a home and away tie against the fifth-ranked South American side - but Hudson remains undaunted.

"We are so focused on the outcome that we want," said Hudson. "The main one is to make sure we win in November. We need to make sure we get there, and then we win.

"Everyone talks about Argentina, or Colombia, or Chile. But the way we have to look at it is: whoever it is, we are playing the fifth-best team in South America. And they are fifth-best for a reason.

"Look at Argentina; we know how good they are but if Argentina are fifth-best, it might be because all is not well in their camp and they have lost games they should have won."

Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste are indeed fifth in the South American qualifying group but it's incredibly tight. With six of 18 rounds still to play, only six points separate Ecuador in third and Peru in eighth.

Hudson remains realistic - the All Whites have never beaten South American opposition, with a 0-0 draw with Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup their best result - but also bullish.
"Whoever it is, it's going to be a monumental task and we know that," said Hudson. "But if we can get everything right in terms of our preparation, we give ourselves a really good chance. Why can't we sneak a win? "Why not? It might not be logical but football logic fails a lot of the time."

This year is the most important in New Zealand football since 2010. Aside from the ongoing World Cup qualification process, the All Whites will make their fourth appearance at a Fifa Confederations Cup, in Russia in June. The importance of that can't be overstated. In 2009, the Confederations Cup was a key step in qualifying for the South Africa World Cup. That tournament also heralded the return of Ivan Vicelich, and indirectly led Ricki Herbert to a new backline formation.

This year's tournament is arguably a tougher draw than 2009 - with Russia, Portugal and Mexico - but Hudson is targeting the opening match with the hosts.

"They can't afford a loss in that game," said Hudson. "We have to expect that Russia will be at their very best. But we have to go there with no fear and be ready for a full 90-minute performance.

"The Confederations Cup is so important. We need to come away from that tournament having built on the belief that we have and know that we are going to give it a serious crack in November, if we qualify."

The recent confirmation of friendlies against Northern Ireland and Belarus gives Hudson the chance to refine his best 11. While he was criticised for capping so many players early in his tenure - and some have never been sighted again - no one can deny that the Englishman has built a stronger base, with more competition for places.

"We have our squad and it is about improving them and aligning them with the gameplan," said Hudson. "There may be one or two more but to come in now, they would have to be pretty special.

"The best thing is we have competition for places ... if someone is not performing, they won't get a spot."

Most of the players in the wider New Zealand squad have been given individualised training plans. The plans, in six-week blocks, can be downloaded on their phones and work around their club schedules.

"Now we have a clear target, the vision is a lot clearer for the players and we have to find ways of improving them - across the board," said Hudson. "We always need to be progressing - whether it is fitness and conditioning, the psychology of the group, our mentality, tactical stuff, our culture, or our depth.

"We have to cover everything."

One thing seems clear: Hudson has a Herculean task but he won't die wondering.

- NZ Herald

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