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Finals target

World Cup dream down to 180 minutes for NZ

May 26, 2009

Four years of planning will come down to just 180 minutes of soccer for New Zealand's national team later this year as they seek to become the second All Whites side to make the World Cup finals.

New Zealand have qualified for next month's Confederations Cup in South Africa as Oceania champions but no-one is denying the end goal is the crucial World Cup qualifiers against the fifth-ranked Asian side home and away in October and November.

The winner will advance to next year's World Cup finals in South Africa and if Ricki Herbert's team are successful, they will break a near three-decade drought.

Herbert was a defender in the 1982 team that went to the finals in Spain, and having experienced their 15-match qualifying campaign in the lead-up, he set about adopting a longer-term view when he took over as national coach in 2005.

"The World Cup is important for me," Herbert told Reuters before he left with the New Zealand-based players for a training camp in Botswana ahead of the Confederations Cup.

"I don't want to play down the Confederations Cup. It's going to be fantastic. (But) the World Cup is massive isn't it? The biggest competition in the world.

"It's funny when we set off as a management group in 2005 and ...you think 'oh, 2009 is a long way away', but we're a week away from going to South Africa (and) ...the defining moment is now just 180 minutes of football."

As expected, the All Whites brushed aside weaker Pacific Island opponents to win their 11-team Oceania qualifying group, but have played just six World Cup qualifiers and only 12 other full international friendlies since 2006.

Three matches against Tanzania, Botswana and world champions Italy will precede the Confederations Cup before the All Whites play European champions Spain, hosts South Africa and Asian champions Iraq in the eight-team competition starting on June 14.

New Zealand Football (NZF) are also organising two further friendlies against Persian Gulf sides in September to fine-tune their preparations before the World Cup qualifiers, which Herbert sees as possible Middle Eastern affairs.

"If I had to throw something out there, and that's all I'd be doing then I'd say it could come from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or North Korea," Herbert said.

For NZF chief executive Michael Glading, the remote South Pacific nation's priorities are clear.

"While we would love to do well in the Confederations Cup...the end goal is qualifying for the World Cup and everyone knows that. Our Cup final is in November, not June," Glading said in a telephone interview from Auckland.

Glading said ideally they would have liked the All Whites to have played more games before this year, but cost was a factor.

"The reality is that every time you put them on the park it costs us NZ$100,000 a week so you can really only do what your budget will allow."

Three venues - North Harbour Stadium in Auckland, Waikato Stadium in Hamilton and Westpac Stadium in Wellington - have been narrowed down as possible venues for the home leg of the World Cup qualifiers.

Herbert, however, said it was imperative the entire country got behind the team.

"The public need to understand what October-November is about. We need to be talking and getting on the front foot about it because it is going to be coming along pretty quickly.

"But for such a long period of time, for such a small period there has to be a little bit of luck somewhere. Hopefully we'll get it ... (and) we give it the best shot we can."