All Whites coach Danny Hay has slammed the Oceania Football Confederation, saying their decision around the format of their World Cup qualifying tournament next March would "happen nowhere else in the world" and has "devalued" the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
In what would be a bizarre scenario, Hay could be forced to use a squad of almost entirely amateur players for at least the first two qualifying matches, which will be staged outside an official Fifa window.
It means that key men like Chris Wood, Sarpreet Singh, Winston Reid, Ryan Thomas, Liberato Cacace and Joe Bell and many others would be unavailable for part of the tournament, as clubs don't have to release them.
On Monday night OFC confirmed the format, with three round-robin group games, before a semifinal and final, spread across 15 days, not including preparation time.
It's a commitment of almost three weeks, with the first group match scheduled for March 16 and the final set for March 30.
The international window, when clubs are mandated to release players, runs from March 21 to March 29.
OFC had applied to Fifa for an eight-day extension, but the Herald understands their request was blocked by the European clubs. Fifa has since granted a one day extension, to take in the final.
New Zealand Football pushed for a straight knockout tournament (quarter-final, semifinal and final), which could have been accommodated within the existing window, but were outvoted, with the other Oceania nations reluctant to travel to Qatar with the prospect of just one match.
But it leaves the All Whites in an unprecedented situation.
"This would happen nowhere else in the world," said Hay, who is currently visiting Kiwi players in Europe. "I'm here in Denmark and trying to explain how this is transpired. Nobody here can get their head around - they were just bamboozled.
"Imagine saying to the Danish national team that you've got World Cup qualifying but you can't pick the best players. They found that very hard to imagine.
"The reality is we may be missing a full strength squad for all three games leading into the semifinal or final, if we were to make it that far."
While massively disappointed, Hay wasn't completely surprised by the decision.
"OFC have got to make their own decisions and they've got to be accountable by that," said Hay. "If they think this is the right decision [and] devaluing a World Cup is the right thing to do, so be it, we just deal with it."
But he felt for the playing group.
"It hurts, it hurts them badly," said Hay, citing a conversation with Burnley striker Wood.
"He's really, really disappointed about this decision; he's a little bit beyond belief that it's actually happened.
"For him, he's been robbed of at least two if not three opportunities to represent his country and more than anything, the opportunity to try and qualify for a World Cup. The likes of him, Winston [Reid] and Michael Boxall, they're not getting any younger so it could be the last opportunity."
Burnley have Premier League games on March 12 and 19, with the All Whites' group matches provisionally scheduled for March 17, 21 and 24, followed by the semifinals (March 27) and final.
Hay will continue to build relationships with various clubs over the next few months, in the hope of some leeway.
"They may be lenient, but they may not as well," said Hay. "They don't need to be."
The coach was also bullish, backing the ability of domestic based players, should they be needed.
"I've got no doubt that whoever pulls on the shirt will give the absolute best for the country," said Hay.
Hay will at least be able to potentially use a vast pool of players, with OFC competitions director Chris Kemp confirming that under tournament regulations teams could theoretically change their entire 23-man squad between matches.
That could mean Hay using one set of players for the first phase, before reinforcements arrive.
Kemp understood Hay's frustration but said the format was the "best option" under the circumstances and had been agreed by the OFC executive committee.
"We acknowledge that … everyone is not going to agree with it," said Kemp. "But the decision has been made with a balance of all 11 member associations, which is our responsibility to consider all of them.
"Unfortunately, there is an impact on which players can be released, or freely released from the clubs. That is a side effect of the decision, but it's something which all 11 member associations agreed upon."
The All Whites (world No 110) were placed in Group B during Tuesday's draw, which looked the marginally harder pool.
They will face New Caledonia (153), Fiji (161) and Papua New Guinea (164).
Group A features Solomon Islands (141), Tahiti (159), Vanuatu (163) and the winner of a qualifying playoff between Tonga (199) and Cook Islands (no ranking).
New Zealand will still be favourites, but the unusual circumstances could level the playing field considerably.
OFC World Cup qualifying tournament proposed schedule
Group A, match day 1: March 16
Group B, match day 1: March 17
Group A, match day 2: March 20
Group B, match day 2: March 21
Group A & B, match day 3: March 24
Semifinals: March 27
Final: March 30