Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Zealand at the World Cup

Where's the justice in this?

When Australia were in Oceania, our last four World Cup qualification play-off opponents were Argentina, Iran, Uruguay and Uruguay. We lost marginally against Argentina. We were 20 minutes away from qualification against Iran. We lost to Uruguay under Frank Farina, and we won on penalties against them under Guus Hiddink. We played some genuinely tough games, in some of the most partisan locations imaginable. 

One of the main reasons we switched to the Asian Confederation was to get a fairer World Cup qualification route. It's fairer to play in two home-and-away groups for qualification, rather than a sudden-death play-off position every four years.  But now that we've left Oceania, we've given that rather tough qualification scenario to New Zealand. And so, what does New Zealand have to do to qualify for the World Cup? 

That's it.

They've done the hard work and drawn 0-0 against Bahrain away. Bahrain took the unusual step of acclimatising for a chilly, wet Wellington in a heat-wave struck Sydney. All New Zealand have to do is show up in front of 35,000 home fans, keep it tight at the back and score a goal. It's not exactly difficult. They just have to practice the dour, negative football that they showed at the Confederations Cup. 

I've got mixed emotions about this. 

Part of me thinks that they're going to get through this too easily. World Cup qualification should be hard, dammit. They have to be earned. You have to endure early morning defeats and the chilling reality that it'll be another four years until the next chance comes around. You can't expect to rock up to a World Cup by playing Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and then a play-off with Bahrain. Where's the brave 1-1 draw in front of 120,000 fanatical fans in Tehran? The rioters at Montevideo? The cynical antics of those bastardly South Americans? It's not a World cup qualification unless you've faced all of that for 32 years. 

Part of me wishes New Zealand well. I realise that it's politically correct to barrack for the Asian side. We are in the Asian Confederation now. But I can't help but wish New Zealand makes it. It could be their only realistic chance of qualification for a long, long time. I can't imagine FIFA like the prospect of New Zealand getting through from such a weak route. 

But most of me is really, really excited by the prospect of a World Cup group featuring Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. If that happens, I think it's a realistic possibility that we can knock England out of the World Cup. England don't travel well. South Africa are at home and, despite being a basket-case, should cobble enough points to get through. New Zealand won't win anything but they'll try their best to hobble England's players. And Australia are awesome. 

So it's possible. If there's one thing better than qualifying for the World Cup, it's doing over England while in the World Cup. That's the whole reason the World Cup was invented, after all. All these countries want a chance to thump England in a meaningful match. And come next year, it might be our turn.

But first, New Zealand's got to win tonight's match.


Vertino said...

ahah! I pictured a world cup group with those very teams. perhaps that was the cricketingness in me that saw it. South Africa and Australia would knock out england easily before NZ would routinely get thumped 4-0 in the pointless last match.

Bahrain are turning into a good luck charm. Last time they lost to Trinidad on their own turf and now they cocked it up against the Kiwis. I'm just glad the Saudis haven't made it. They are an embarassment to World Cup football. they hired a brazilian coach, expecting brazilian results. when it never happened they fired him.

weg said...

Well, NZ's through. Gotta feel sorry for Bahrain. I'd forgotten they fell to Trindad last time around.

Brainbird said...

hahaha...the group Australia, NewZealand, South Africa and England seems almost straight out of a cricket World Cup. Will be interesting to see who progresses. My bets are on England and Australia, notwithstanding South Africa are the home side.

V said...

It definitely is out of a cricket group.

Connolly's agent said...

Personally, I'd like to see Australia's drunken yobs against the English drunken mob. We've only really encountered the cricket Barmy Army, and I get the feeling that they're a lot more well-mannered and gracious than their footballing counterparts. Who would win in a fight? Or would they just band up and start beating up every other supporter group in sight?