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The World Stage Awaits New Zealand’s All Whites

Contributor:
Adrian Musolino
Adrian Musolino

The moment of truth has finally arrived. This weekend, a world away in Manama, the New Zealand All Whites will take to the field against Bahrain for the right to join football’s elite for the first time in 28 years. 

It was in 1982 that New Zealand last appeared at the FIFA World Cup finals where they lost all three matches in a difficult group made up of Brazil, Scotland and the USSR.
Ricki Herbert was 21 at the time and played in that World Cup for the All Whites. As head coach he has the chance to lead his country to football’s biggest stage. 
It would be a remarkable achievement for Herbert, also head coach of the Wellington Phoenix in Australia’s A-League, New Zealand’s only professional football club side.
But his task is a difficult one.  
It’s been almost a year since the All Whites played their last match in the World Cup qualifying stage - qualifying top from the Oceania confederation and having to wait for their opponent, the 5th placed Asian nation. 

That team, Bahrain, has been battle hardened by an exhaustive Asian qualifying process and is seeking redemption having narrowly missed out on the 2006 World Cup with a loss to Trinidad and Tobago in a similar qualifying playoff. 

While some may scoff at New Zealand’s chances in the playoff – many believing they don’t belong there considering Australia left the Oceania confederation for Asia, leaving the All Whites with little opposition – there are reasons to feel optimistic. 

Shane Smeltz has been in rare goal scoring form, leading the goal scoring in the A-League for new club Gold Coast United and scoring twice in the All White’s away friendly victory against Jordan.

Encouragingly, New Zealand players have been slowly infiltrating the A-League, moving away from Wellington and plying their trade in Australia.

In addition to the aforementioned Smeltz, goalkeeper Glen Moss is now the shot stopper at the defending champions the Melbourne Victory, and the highly touted Michael McGlinchey plays for the Central Coast Mariners.

The friendly victory against Jordan gave the All Whites renewed confidence and showed that, despite the limited game time, they are hitting their straps at the right time. 
Hamstrung by a lack of competitive games, the All Whites only managed one point and no goals at the Confederations Cup earlier in the year, but showed flashes of promise.
Encouragingly, the point won at the Confederations Cup was against the Asian champions, Iraq. 

If the All Whites can defeat Bahrain over two legs, the impact for football in New Zealand will be enormous. 
Australia faced a similar playoff four years ago and the subsequent victory unleashed a tidal wave of support for the national team, significantly improving the economic welfare and popularity of the game.

The All Whites qualification to the world’s biggest sporting spectacle could be the impetus for football to make huge strides on the likes of Rugby and cricket in New Zealand, significantly assisting the Wellington Phoenix, interest in the game and hopefully convincing FIFA that Oceania needs to be absorbed into Asia. 
Good luck to the All Whites in Bahrain and book your tickets for the second leg held at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on the 14th of November. 

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