Update: The All Whites thrashed the Solomon Islands 2-2 in the return leg in Honiara on Tuesday to book their place in the inter-continental playoff with South America’s fifth placed team. The two-leg tie will be played on November 6 (New Zealand) and November 14 (South America).
Somewhere, deep in a bunker under Buenos Aires, in a room full of flat screen TVs, Argentina coach Jorge Luis Sampaoli Moya isn’t reviewing tape of the All Whites’ 6-1 shellacking of the Solomon Islands.
Likewise, across the border to the west, in Santiago, and to the north, in Asuncian, Juan Antonio Pizzi and Francesco Arce aren’t flat out trying to deconstruct the mysteries of Anthony Hudson’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Frankly, the coaches of Chile and Parguay couldn’t give a shit.
The only South American coach who is studying New Zealand with any sort of intent right now is Venezuela’s Rafael Edgar Dudamel Ochoa, whose interest centres on whether Palmerston North will be a suitable bolthole when he is run out of the country for guiding his nation to last place in the 10-team Conmebol world cup qualifying conference.
With just one win and seven points from 15 matches, Venezuela are sadly no chance of finishing fifth and claiming the guaranteed two-leg victory over New Zealand and spot in the world cup proper that comes with it (sadly because the fans of a nation that has notched a world leading 22 Miss Universe titles will clearly be missed in Russia).
The reality for we Kiwis is that the fate of our world cup qualifying campaign was decided in a boardroom in Geneva. We’re no chance of beating South American opposition home and away. We’d struggle against a Venezuelan team consisting entirely of Miss Universes. When Fifa handed us a playoff against the fifth best Conmebol team, they really just handed South America a fifth sport in the Cup.
Like most that have preceded it, this All Whites world cup campaign is the inverse of a Warriors season; no number of impressive victories can disguise the utter lack of realistic hope that there might be a successful outcome.
Where to from here? That’s the question facing New Zealand football. Our confederation, Oceania, looks set to be handed a free pass into an expanded world cup finals from 2022. That decision appears to be a lock, but just as the great god Fifa giveth (thanks for the Bahrain tie by the way chaps), so it can taketh away.
Do we trust Fifa to protect our (sorry Oceania’s) spot beyond 2022? And do we even want it? Is thrashing Pacific Islands nations who will always struggle with the mysteries of our deceptively flat and true playing surfaces and mild climate really what we want for and from our national football team?
Are we comfortable with the fact our qualifying route will be so ridiculously easy that most of our top professionals won’t be released (sorry, will be unfortunately injured) for the matches, and that those that do turn up will be sent home early because they really aren’t needed?
Or, do we do as Australia has done, and thumb our nose at geography? Joining the Socceroos in Asia is seen as a viable option. But, if we could join Asia, surely the other continents we don’t happen to reside in must be on the table, too.
The north and central American conglomeration of Concacaf surely makes as much sense as Asia. The exchange rate might not be as favourable in most locales, but we’d have to be a half a chance against Haiti, surely?*
Or why not throw the gauntlet down and join South America? After battering Argentina 0-9 next month, we’ll pretty much have a foot in the door. With guaranteed regular ties against the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, hell, we wouldn’t even need to qualify for the world cup. The best teams in the world would already be coming to us – and not just to hide in our motels when they get death threats.
It’s tempting to think this is all a bit premature, that we should wait until we’re eliminated before we start planning for the next cycle. But, deep down, we all know what the score is.
*Or not. Haiti is ranked 55 on the Coca Cola Fifa men’s national team rankings – 68 places ahead of New Zealand.