In his second World Cup briefing for Friends of Football, All Whites legend Ricki Herbert analyses New Zealand’s 1-0 win against Papua New Guinea.
By Ricki Herbert
They hit the crossbar, they hit the post, they had headers cleared off the line … but when the final whistle went, the missed chances didn’t matter.
The All Whites needed only to get one ball across the Papua New Guinea goal line to claim a winning start at the qualifying tournament.
No team is more vulnerable to a shock result than in their first game at any tournament.
Look at Slovakia in 2010 when the All Whites took them by surprise in the opening game at the World Cup finals in South Africa.
The problem with the first game at a tournament is that no amount of scouting, analysis of past games and planning will fully prepare you for the type of game your opponent will bring.
PNG had not played an international for more than two years, so who knew what they might attempt?
‘The key factors were fitness, temperament and the right game plan’
Full marks to head coach Danny Hay and his young squad for successfully navigating the first challenge of their 2022 campaign.
Their win was built on a number of factors.
First, their levels of fitness were clearly greater than their PNG counterparts. Man for man, you could see the Kiwis were fitter and had more running in them.
Though we were without some experienced professionals for this first game, every All White on the pitch, other than Auckland City’s Cam Howieson, is playing for fully professional clubs. Match fitness is now a given.
Second, Hay used that advantage well with the All Whites forcing the Kapuls to cover ground, particularly in the first hour, with switches of play from sideline to sideline, using Joe Champness and Kosta Barbarouses to stretch play.
The All Whites had two-thirds of the game’s possession and used it well to tire out the opposition.
Third, the players had the right temperament to deal with high-pressure tournament play.
Despite the frustration of not scoring, they remained patient and kept their cool when tackles flew in.
Two players who made a difference
It was satisfying to see two players at very different ends of their careers making critical contributions.
Captain Winston Reid (33) saw out the match, despite not having played recent club football, while newcomer Ben Waine (20) had the perfect debut, scoring within 10 minutes of his introduction to the game.
Discipline, mental focus and patience got the All Whites across the line.
Bring on Fiji on Tuesday and the chance to gain a stranglehold on Group B.
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