Why the All Whites owe thanks to Australia
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New Zealand’s All Whites were the find of the 2010 World Cup. They achieved more in the tournament than anyone in their wildest dreams would have predicted with a team made up mainly of A-League players, one Premier League first team regular, a couple of bit-players from European leagues and a few semi-pros.
Three draws, including holding the defending champions Italy, meant that the All Whites finished the tournament unbeaten and were a whisker away from going through to the next round.
New Zealand’s performance will rank alongside North Korea’s defeat of Italy in 1966, Croatia’s run to the semi-finals in 1998, and Turkey’s third place finish in 2002 in the annals of World Cup history.
And while the All Whites have received deserved praise from across the globe, there hasn’t been much thanks from the All Whites or New Zealand Football to Football Federation Australia (FFA). For if it was not for the actions of the FFA in two key areas, New Zealand’s success at this year’s World Cup would have been impossible.
Firstly, Australia’s move into the Asian confederation in 2006 has made New Zealand’s qualification into the World Cup infinitely easier.
New Zealand are now the kings of Oceania and are in the same position as Australia was in for decades – win a random two-legged playoff across the fifth ranked Asian or South American nation.
For the All Whites, for this World Cup, they got lucky and drew Bahrain, which they beat by the smallest of margins. At their first bite of the cherry, they made it. Granted, they were lucky their opponents were Bahrain, an easier foe than the ones the Socceroos have drawn in the past 18 years.
Australia faced Uruguay twice, Iran, Maradona’s Argentina and a Scotland side featuring Graeme Souness and Kenny Daglish – all teams much stronger than Bahrain. Australia may have moved into Asia for their own gain, but New Zealand has benefited as well.
With the All Whites top dogs in Oceania, their chances of frequent World Cup qualification has tripled. They will also play more regular opposition, such as in every Confederations Cup.
Hell, they might even move into Asia after their shocking World Cup turn, along with the rest of Oceania.
The second key decision by the FFA, and Soccer Australia before it, is the sustainment of a professional club in New Zealand competing in an Australian football league.
Starting off with the Auckland and then New Zealand Kingz, and now with the Wellington Phoenix, Australia’s football authorities have helped keen top-flight football alive across the Tasman. Particularly with the Phoenix, where the Asian Football Confederation has told the FFA that a team outside of Asia cannot compete in the A-League, the FFA has remained stoic in helping the Phoenix alive.
Just like the NRL and NBL, Australian sport has no obligation to allow Kiwi teams to play in its leagues, but it does so with benefits to both countries.
This move has helped the All Whites in two ways.
First, by maintaining a visible professional pathway for aspiring Kiwi footballers. The second is, with the Phoenix, the All Whites have a de-facto national team, a core of New Zealand footballers who play and train together week in and week out.
This way they have build a great understanding, cameradie and team spirit. With the Phoenix coached by the All Whites manager Ricki Herbert, New Zealand’s coach has had better access to a large number of his national team players than virtually any other manager in the world. Certainly better access than Pim Verbeek had.
The benefit of this arrangement cannot be underestimated. Where would the likes of England and France, even Australia, be if their coaches had access to their players basically every day all year, instead of every month or so for one-off match?
No-one can deny the effort, courage, hard work and fighting spirit of the All Whites.
By far, they were the Cinderella story of the World Cup. But spare a thought for the help provided by the FFA. Without it, it’s very unlikely the All Whites would have even made it to South Africa, let alone produce their world-shocking heroics.
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