Coach Anthony Hudson charting a new attacking course for New Zealand
At the 2010 World Cup, New Zealand were determined, doughty and difficult to beat. The All Whites drew all three games against Slovakia, Paraguay and Italy to finish above the defending champions. It was a fine achievement.
For Russia 2018 however, head coach Anthony Hudson wants a little more. Not just to qualify but to play a brand of attacking, ambitious and aggressive football against the top teams on the planet.
Since taking the job in August last year, the Englishman, just 34, has started working towards that end. In Seoul in March, facing the runner-up at the 2015 Asian Cup, New Zealand took the game to the Taeguk Warriors. Had Chris Wood's first half strike not been mysteriously ruled out, the 1-0 win to the hosts at Seoul World Cup Stadium may have ended very differently.
"We had four or five players make their debuts, some playing amateur football and we went there and did well and deserved something and we were positive," Hudson told ESPNFC.
"Historically, we were a team who sat back and defended. We were really brave and fought for everything but now we are going to places like Korea and playing on the front foot. We have not had a lot of time with the team but I believe we are on the right track."
There may be more new faces that make the journey as Hudson and his staff scout both hemispheres for players eligible to pull on the famous shirt. Players like Themistoklis Tzimopoulos -- who stars in the Greek Premier League -- as well as others from the lower leagues in Germany and England were included in the latest squad for the first time as Hudson looks to find talent and then build a team, one led on the pitch by West Ham United defender and rumoured Manchester United and Arsenal target Winston Reid.
Before arriving in Wellington, Hudson established himself as one of the biggest and brightest young English coaches in the game with his work in Bahrain. He spent two years from 2012 to 2014 in the West Asian country, first as coach of the U23 team and then head coach of the senior side.
Hudson is hard working -- during close seasons, he has travelled around Europe and South America studying from the best minds in the game. He is talented -- he led Bahrain's U23 team to the U23 Gulf Cup title. And he is ambitious - in addition to coaching in the World Cup, he wants to work in La Liga and the Champions League. Hudson is currently focused on preparing for the road to Russia through Oceania.
"I loved Bahrain and the Middle East," he said. "But if I had one issue, it was really hard to organise and plan long term. I mean setting down a path where we can get to the World Cup and building a team and developing players. Everything was game to game. With New Zealand, I feel we can go to the World Cup and we can do it properly by building a proper team and implementing a style of play. We can be a success and make people sit up as we have good players. It needs to be done a certain way."
Hudson wants as many tough tests as possible. It's no secret that being in Oceania is not ideal for preparing teams for global tests especially after Australia departed for Asia in 2006. The coach is not taking qualification -- which takes place for the All Whites in 2016 -- for granted. He also hopes that the format is a short one, leaving time to play stronger opposition on those precious FIFA dates.
"We have to play top Asian teams rather than playing against lower ranked teams," said Hudson. "For qualification, we arrive there by playing good teams like Korea and China away and getting our young players exposed to that environment and arriving with a healthy squad. We have to look at the age of the team now. If we are all about winning the next game then we will pay the price down the road. We have to start building now. I'm really positive."
It is a mindset that he wants his players to take onto the pitch. "I'm a firm believer that the better the team you play against, the harder you work to stop them playing. That means meeting them high up the pitch and being aggressive. We didn't do enough with our possession in Korea but we will get better. It won't be too long before we can go to Korea and not only stop them playing but we can become a little braver with what we do on the ball. We have to do it tactically and intelligently. We can't be like Germany but we can play a brand of football."
It could be said that the Hudson name was famous for a certain brand of football. Anthony's father was the famously talented ex-Chelsea, Arsenal and Stoke City star Alan. Not being at the level of the English international -- who should have played more often for the Three Lions -- may not have been easy at the time but did have its benefits.
"As a player, I carried the weight on my shoulders and it was a heavy one. I tried to deal with it but I didn't do it very well. It was an important part of me becoming a coach. I was single-minded when I stopped playing and was frustrated in that I wanted to make a name for myself. I didn't just want to be known as someone's son. As a kid, I didn't really know how to deal with the expectations that came with having my dad's name. I was not able to figure out mentally how to deal with the feeling that I'd never be as good as my dad.... Yet, it really helped me as a coach."
If New Zealand do go to Russia and perform well, then it may be hard for the All Whites to hang on to their English boss even if he is in no hurry to return back home. "I love English football but I am not sitting here trying to get back. Things will unfold. I went to Marcelo Bielsa's home last year. I am a big fan of his and love Latin culture. It would be great to work in Spain and I am learning Spanish. Argentina, Chile and many other places are interesting. There is a big footballing world out there."
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.