The Roar
The Roar


How All Whites can learn from Socceroos' mistakes

New Zealand supporters celebrate at the end of the World Cup Group F soccer match between Italy and New Zealand at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, Sunday, June 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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14th November, 2013
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Bloody massacres are not uncommon in the drug war zones of Mexico. The 5-1 rout of New Zealand last night will not be out of place on the front pages of Mexican newspapers infamous for having gory pictures.

Watching the All Whites get dismantled by Mexico last night in a World Cup intercontinental qualifier gave me painful memories of past Socceroos failures.

The tactics Ricky Herbert chose to use and the personnel sent out to perform those tasks were just wrong for a number of reasons.

I am not a huge follower of New Zealand football and the last time I watched them play was against Paraguay in the 2010 World Cup.

The reasons I rose early to watch them play are two fold. The big A-League link and I genuinely believed this was going to be tight two legged play-off that would go down to the final whistle in Wellington.

The chance it will go down to the wire is slim to none and the reason for this is down to one man. Ricky Herbert.

The tactics employed by him were conservative at best and ultimately proved super naive.

According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

The failure to change his tactics and formation from the World Cup was a big part of NZ’s undoing.


For one, the Mexican coach would have done his homework but the main factor in the tactics failing was the location of the game.

They worked in neutral South Africa but at the intimidating high pressure but low atmosphere of the Azteca they were doomed to failure.

At 2200 metres, you simply cannot allow so much possession to the Mexico.

Chasing shadows in such rarified air will leave you breathless.

Combine that with using old and underdone players and you have a recipe for a 5-1 reverse.

Australia’s use of overaged players in recent games has hi-lighted how it can undo you.

Ricky had his warning through the Socceroos recent form, he didn’t heed it.

A 37-year-old at CB in Vicelich proved highly exposed as too slow against the swarming Mexicans.


Perhaps the biggest lesson that past Socceroos failures can express is selecting underdone players.

The most painful example of this was when Australia blew two goals to Iran in 97.

On that night there were many players who were short of full match fitness and many analysts have concluded it was a major factor in our undoing.

Selecting club-less players, Tony Lochhead and Jeremy Christie, was a mistake that Ricky paid for.

Leo Bertos was an ok choice for RB as he is fairly quick but again Lochhead was not only underdone but is a fairly slow mover.

Ricky should have trusted the speed and young enthusiasm of Bill Tuiloma at LB to defend against the Mexican speedsters.

When Australia played Iran, Terry Venables picked a young Harry Kewell and it paid off handsomely.

Ricky could have heeded a lesson from this, even he was 21 when the All Whites qualified for their first World Cup.


The idea to absorb pressure was a good one, executing the counter attack failed for three reasons. Playing Chris Wood, not playing Marcos Rojas and an out of sorts Jeremy Christie.

I know I mentioned that underdone players should not be played but for the sake of a successful counter attack you need a technically gifted speedster.

Besides, you can forgive at least one underdone player if he is an attacker.

Marcos showed his technique and speed at Melbourne Victory, he is perfect for a counter attack role. He was the Harry Kewell “gamble” that Ricky should have risked.

Chris James passing was more measured than Mr Christie’s and he could have sent through Rojas nicely. We will never know if it would have worked because by the time those two players were on the pitch, the damage had been done.

Plus the constitution of the game when Rojas came on, saw New Zealand pressing to score and Mexico exposing the space behind.

Another tactic I noticed was a shoot on sight policy.

Not such a bad tactic considering the occasion and rareness of New Zealand attacks.


Again Rojas is an excellent shooter but if Ricky doesn’t use him surely using Shane Smeltz rather than Wood is the better option considering his plethora of stunning A-League goals.

Smeltz was underdone I know but use him for the first half when a goal can make or break a tie.

I must say “Bravo!” to the Mexican gamble to play seven of the Club America team.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and you could do worse than send out a team in full synchronisation.

Heck, Spain is Barcelona incognito.

I really did think the All Whites were a good chance of coming away with a decent scoreline from the Azteca.

Maybe I was foolish but Mexico were in crisis and New Zealand showed they were capable at South Africa 2010 of keeping it tight.

Then again it is the Azteca, a stadium that even Brazil rarely walks away from with points or even dignity.


The other game of the evening was more predictable.

A ruthless Uruguay was always going to be beat Jordan and I even expected Jordan to ship a lot of goals. New Zealand had a more sporting chance but a couple of clumsy goals combined with an inept coaching display and we got an unexpected similar result.

NZ were lucky to face a Bahrain punching above their weight in 2009 and I was jealous of them qualifying so quickly via the intercontinental crap shoot.

2014 qualifying is showing them how lucky they were.

The 2018 World Cup path sees Oceania go through South America and we may well see Uruguay play NZ.

Hopefully New Zealand can heed the lessons from our matches against Uruguay because they certainly didn’t heed the lessons from our past failures.

A-League fans, pray for “The Miracle in Wellington” because our reputation could do with a boost after the “Azteca Massacre”.