In his sixth World Cup briefing for Friends of Football, All Whites legend Ricki Herbert anticipates what lies ahead for the national side now they have won the Oceania qualifying series …
By Ricki Herbert
One’s game over and already we’re looking forward to the next, and weighing up our chances of going to the FIFA World Cup finals for a third time.
New Zealand’s success at the Oceania qualifiers sets up a sudden-death decider against the fourth-ranked team from CONCACAF — all but certain to be Costa Rica, barring a freak result when they play the United States later today (Friday NZT).
How will we do when we face them in mid-June?
Well, thanks to smart planning and making the most of difficult circumstances, New Zealand are in a great position.
The inter-confederation play-off will take place in Qatar.
‘For the All Whites, the play-off will almost feel like a home game’
We’ve just played five tournament games there. Those games followed friendlies all played in the same region, at venues in Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Our players know what it’s like to train and play in the local conditions, and they adapted to playing in empty Doha stadiums.
For the All Whites, the June play-off will feel almost like a home game.
Their opponents (who have only 10 weeks to familiarise themselves with the Qatar environment) will be under pressure, especially if the game also has to be played behind closed doors.
Don’t make plans for June 14-15 … chances are the game will again be played at 6am and now’s the time to block out your diary!
‘Smile … and feel a sense of pride’
Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the moment.
Today is one of those days for a New Zealand football supporter when you can glide through the rest of your day with a smile and a feeling of pride.
I’m happy for Danny Hay and his players because they’ve delivered on their promise, and given us hope for what might happen this year.
Throughout the tournament, Hay rotated his players with the confidence of someone who believed in them. They repaid him by playing with confidence.
And he got his tactics right.
He knew the All Whites had to be more clinical up front and his team would have been aware of the threat they would pose if they got their set-pieces right.
It worked a treat. Twelve of New Zealand’s 16 goal attempts were on target and five goals was the result.
The execution of the set-pieces was spot on. Players made the right runs at the right time to arrive exactly where they knew the ball was coming — and the delivery was accurate.
Remember, in a one-off game against a stronger side like Costa Rica, the result might come down to one set-piece.
Put it away and we’re through.
It happened before when Rory Fallon finished a set-piece against Bahrein and sent us through to the 2010 finals.