The years 1982 and 2010 loom large in any reminiscing about New Zealand football’s glory days — they’re the years our All Whites beat the odds to reach FIFA World Cup finals in Spain and South Africa.
But what about the rest of football’s four-year cycles, and the 19 finals tournaments we did not qualify for?
A quick quiz
Given the first World Cup was held in 1930, in what year do you think New Zealand:
a) scored their first World Cup goal?
b) won their first World Cup game?
c) spent a total budget of $54,000 on their qualifying campaign?
a) Brian Turner broke the goalscoring drought, finding the net against Australia (March 4, 1973).
b) New Zealand finally won a World Cup game when they beat Chinese Taipei 6-0 (March 19, 1977).
c) The 1978 campaign cost $54,000. Allowing for inflation, that’s the equivalent of $365,000 in today’s money.
Where did it all go wrong?
For the most part, New Zealand’s efforts crumbled at the start of any process to reach the finals or worse, we simply didn’t enter.
New Zealand has faced various routes to the finals — playing combinations of teams from Asia and Oceania and more recently, having to play inter-confederation play-offs.
For many years, our main hurdle was that team from across the Tasman Sea.
Australia’s move into the Asian Confederation in 2006 certainly boosted New Zealand’s stocks in Oceania but left us facing strong teams from North, Central or South America.
Here’s a video explanation of how the power has shifted in Oceania over time:
Football has held 21 World Cups, between 1930 and 2018.
Here’s what happened in the 11 campaigns in which we entered and failed to make the cut …
Eight World Cups were held in this period — Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), France (1938), Brazil (1950), Switzerland (1954), Sweden (1958), Chile (1962) and England (1966).
New Zealand did not qualify for the simplest of reasons. We did not enter.
Encouraged by England’s success at the 1966 tournament, New Zealand entered the World Cup for the first time.
New Zealand went into a seven-nation pool that brought together teams from Asia and Oceania, though North Korea withdrew after refusing to play Israel.
New Zealand went into a group of two, facing Israel. To save expense, both games were played in Tel Aviv in late 1969.
Israel won both fixtures, 4-0 and 2-0.
A milestone for New Zealand football was achieved when Brian Turner scored his country’s first-ever goal in a World Cup game.
On March 4, 1973, Turner’s goal helped New Zealand to a 1-1 draw against Australia.
The New Zealanders then left for Australia where they played the five remaining games in their four-team group (against Australia, Iraq and Indonesia).
They finished bottom of the group and without a win.
Click below to read the souvenir programme for the qualifying tournament >>>>
With a total budget of $54,000 allocated to their World Cup campaign, New Zealand achieved another notable milestone — the country’s first win.
It came on March 19, 1977, when New Zealand beat Chinese Taipei 6-0 at Auckland’s Newmarket Park, thanks to a Keith Nelson hat-trick and goals from Clive Campbell, Dave Taylor and Kevin Weymouth.
Despite beating the Chinese in the return fixture, also by 6-0, New Zealand were eliminated because they lost 3-1 to Australia in Sydney and could only draw with the Socceroos in the Auckland leg.
Nelson, who made his international debut as a 30-year-old, scored half of New Zealand’s 14 goals in the four ties.
Click below to read the souvenir programme for the qualifying tournament:
In late 1985, New Zealand joined Australia, Chinese Taipei and Israel in a four-nation qualifying group.
Despite being unbeaten in four games on home soil, New Zealand lost crucial away games, losing 2-0 in Australia and 3-0 in Israel.
A similar story to 1986 as New Zealand again played Australia, Chinese Taipei and Israel. Again, the Kiwis faltered in their away games to Australia and Israel despite being unbeaten in four home games.
This competition saw the move to an Oceania qualifying tournament and in 1992-93, the New Zealanders faced Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu.
Australia beat New Zealand twice to elbow us out of the way.
Again, Australia’s superiority in their two games with New Zealand ensured the Socceroos would qualify from Oceania, after a tournament that also included Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Australia’s stranglehold on Oceania continued with two wins against New Zealand securing qualification from the group that also involved Tahiti, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
New Zealand blew their chances with Oceania group losses to Australia and Vanuatu. Australia cruised through the group, including Solomon Islands, Tahiti, and Fiji.
With Australia now part of the Asian Confederation, New Zealand were able to go through the first round of Oceania qualifiers in Honiara, beating Fiji and Papua New Guinea and drawing with host Solomon Islands.
In the next round, New Zealand won all six fixtures against New Caledonia, Tahiti and Solomon Islands.
For the first time, the All Whites would go into an inter-confederation play-off, meeting Mexico from CONCACAF.
The All Whites lost 5-1 in Mexico and lost 4-2 in Wellington.
After a lengthy series of games against Oceania opposition — the first game was in May 2016, the last in September 2017 — New Zealand again qualified for a two-legged inter-confederation play-off with Peru, who finished fifth in the CONMEBOL qualification tournament.
The All Whites drew 0-0 in Wellington but lost the return match 2-0 in Lima.
… and to the future
The current All Whites go into their 2022 World Cup campaign better prepared than most, if not all, of their predecessors.
They’ll be inspired, no doubt, by tales from 1982 and 2010.
But they will do well to remember their efforts are also built on the lessons learned from failed campaigns and lost opportunities.