The soccer World Cup was an awesome global event.

Even though the traditional powerhouses of international football were knocked out early, or in the case of Italy and Holland, didn't even qualify at all, it was still a brilliant tournament.

Having some of the less fancied nations perform so well added an unexpected twist and reinforced the unparalleled depth of quality around the world that the sport has.

Croatia, a small country of just over four million, really put themselves on the map, and were unlucky to concede an own-goal and first ever VAR penalty, to ultimately concede the Cup to France.


The only obvious downside to the tournament was that New Zealand wasn't there. Imagine having the All Whites competitive at the highest level and going deep into the knockout stages.

A country with our small population can't be good at everything; if we spread our resources too thin across all winter codes we will be masters of none. So it's always going to be tough to compete on the big stage, but not impossible.

Part of the challenge is attracting the best sporting talent to the game.

The last week of the World Cup was better than the first half of the tournament, with less diving and arguing with the ref, but still not ideal.

Some say the diving is part of the art and mastery of the game, but with our culture the way it is, many get turned off by the unsavoury sportsmanship we often see.

New Zealand has led the way on many things – first to see the sun, first to climb Everest, first to give women the vote, and earlier in the tournament some even suggested we take a moral stand, and be the first county to ban soccer.

But that would be a step too far, surely we can develop the game here and take it to a better place.

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As far back as I can remember, which is the 1982 All Whites making the World Cup finals, we just don't seem to have progressed as a soccer nation. But imagine if we brought in culture gurus, the likes of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, and let them see what they could do with NZ football.

First thing they would work on is character, just as they would any rugby team. But after that, they would ultimately need talent.

Long term, they would need to come up with some way of making soccer a part of what we do growing up, linking in with our councils and health systems to drag kids away from their devices, and to create some kind of street ball environments akin to the South American hot beds of talent – it would work, but would also take a few years to bear fruit.

So in the meantime, just for a bit of fun they could fast track our existing talent into the game.

We would need a major sponsor, say someone like Bill Gates, but then Rennie and Smith could target whatever Kiwi talent they wanted – imagine if they could hunt down the most skilful rugby players and fully immerse them into a 24/7 development programme, high in a mountain retreat for two years of serious coaching, preparing them for a tilt at the 2022 World Cup.

It would be hard work for the boys and some might have to trim down, but imagine If they could recruit the following group and entice them with some large bonuses like the Europeans, how long would they need to become competitive?

Jordie Barrett at goalkeeper; Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Israel Dagg, and TJ Perenara at the back; Dan Carter and Aaron Smith as the mid-field generals with Beauden Barrett and Shaun Johnson attacking on the wings; and Damian McKenzie and Ihaia West striking up front.

• Marcus Agnew is the health and sport development manager at Hawke's Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust and is also a lecturer in sports science at EIT.