Football in New Zealand has so few moments to shine, it's a crying shame the All Whites' World Cup struggles against Peru were coloured by the strange Chris Wood affair - and the relentless pursuit of defence being the best means of attack.

I will never understand the rationale of keeping Wood, their best attacking weapon, on the bench against Peru until the second half - by which time they were 1-0 down.

The All Whites had held Peru 0-0 in the first leg, leaving the prospect of an away goal as a tempting proposition in the second leg - away goals effectively being worth double.

So what does All Whites' coach Anthony Hudson do? He leaves the side's best goalscorer on the bench for the first half.


There was some reasoning behind the move. First, Wood apparently has a hamstring injury. Second, the game plan seemed to be to trust to our defence - the All Whites being more acquainted with the number 0 than any other - to frustrate the Peruvians into a mistake.

Easy to be wise after the event, granted, but such a plan is akin to the chickens blocking the entrance to the coop with their eggs and then challenging the foxes to get past.

First, Wood's hammy. Hudson said after the match: "[In the first leg] he could only play 30 minutes max. Today he could only play 60 minutes max." Hmmm, why not make it the first 60 minutes and go for the away goal?

Hudson said: "I think if we'd started with him, and he'd stayed in, he would have got injured. He would have done his hamstring. It would have been a problem."

Sorry, what? If Hudson (now out of contract) gets another job somewhere else, will it be as the world's first Hamstring Injury Predictor? How does he figure that if Wood starts, he does a hammy but if he comes on in the second half, he won't?

This is obviously a marvellous new branch of sports science; Hudson will be paid megabucks by clubs if he can foretell who'll ping a hammy next. I think we should be told. It will also be dead interesting to see if Wood starts for Burnley in the Premier League this weekend.

Transparency was an issue as well. Wood's injury was kept secret. In both legs, the impression was given he would be playing.

Hudson didn't want the Peruvians to gain some sort of mental advantage. But, come on...the world's No. 10 side are hardly going to be devastated by the fact Wood isn't playing, throwing themselves to the ground and sobbing into hankies.


There's a wider issue here. Football in New Zealand does not have the luxury of playing fast and loose with the fans - particularly those tuning in to see what all the fuss is about but who end up disappointed and confused as their team appear to be doing their best not to win, but not to lose.

New Zealand's defensive approach has served us well in the past but, if we are to grow as a football nation, surely we have to be more adept at one of the basics of the sport - scoring.

Wood, Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and Ryan Thomas are all players who can create and score - but not sitting on the bench.

This is football - the world's most popular sport just about everywhere except New Zealand. This World Cup campaign has illustrated only that we have not progressed from the defence-heavy days of the Ricki Herbert era; for that reason, Hudson's custodianship of the team and this campaign must be counted a fail.

The re-selecting of Rory Fallon and Jeremy Brockie was a symbolic attempt to connect with our successful past - but it ended up looking as though we were mired in it.

It was never an easy task. Getting past a South American side - any South American side - is difficult but we might have appreciated the end result more if we'd had a decent crack at them.

There's not a great deal of difference between losing 2-0 with a game plan of frustration and 4-0 if you have a go. You're out of the World Cup either way.

But the players and the team might learn more about competing at this level than just massing on defence.

For a country whose national team enjoys precious few international matches of significance, it was another chance wasted. Another set of potential new fans watched, puzzled, as the All Whites played yet another square ball and attempted to keep possession before hoofing up another long ball - still a principal attacking ploy.

We may not have the players to attack a South American side, not yet anyway. But surely we have to try and develop midfielders who can play the killer ball to strikers who can take scoring chances.

Remember the old Confucius quote - "Better to be a diamond with flaws than a pebble without."