The All Whites would like to think their 2018 World Cup chances hinge on what they can do on a football pitch but, in reality, a great deal hinges on the way the balls come out of a dish at a draw in St Petersburg this morning.

The draw for the various qualification paths will take place this morning, when the fate of Oceania's representative will be decided.

It's a crucial moment, with so much depending on it.

Forget about the ongoing Deklan Wynne scenario, forget about the 2017 Confederations Cup, forget about injuries to key players — what happens today could have more influence on the All Whites' chances than any other single factor.


Should the Oceania winner be paired with South America, which would mean a home and away playoff against the fifth-placed team from that continent, it would make the Road to Russia seem very steep indeed.

Australia managed to qualify via that route only once, and that took one of the best Socceroos teams in history (with Harry Kewell, John Aloisi, Mark Viduka et al) and a penalty shootout to prevail in 2005.

A tie with the North American contender would also be daunting. Sure, it was a freak series of events that saw the All Whites paired with Mexico last time around, but the standard in that region is getting stronger, as demonstrated by the performance of Costa Rica and Honduras at the 2014 World Cup.

A further complication would be the difficulty of arranging lead-in games with Concacaf opposition — the flight connections and distances make it incredibly hard to stage fixtures in that area.

Asia is the preferred option.

It makes geographical and logistical sense, but there is only a 33 per cent chance of that scenario.

Over the years, Oceania have seemed to be Fifa's plaything.

Before the 1986 World Cup, Australia had an (unsuccessful) playoff with Scotland — work that one out — and in 1993 the Socceroos faced Diego Maradona's Argentina.


Four of the last eight playoffs have been against South American opposition, with the others against two Asian opponents (Iran in 2001 and Bahrain 2009) along with Scotland and Mexico.

It had been expected the route this time would be against Asian opposition, with South America and North America to duel for the other spot.

It's for that reason NZF have been targeting Asian opposition over the last 18 months but that outcome has failed to transpire, partly because Fifa have had more pressing matters to attend to.

With so much at stake — it was estimated that Mexico's eventual qualification was worth $500 million-$700 million — hopefully the draw in St Petersburg will be above suspicion and none of the various conspiracy theories around "heated balls" are raised.

Globe trotters

Oceania's random World Cup road


New Zealand v Mexico


New Zealand v Bahrain


Australia v Uruguay


Australia v Uruguay


Australia v Iran


Australia v Argentina


Israel v Colombia

1986: Australia v Scotland