It has been a dark few days for New Zealand football. The island nation had looked to be on the up after qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and performing well at the competition. But it has all come crashing down.
New Zealand lost 2-0 to New Caledonia at the Oceania Nations Cup and won’t become champion of the confederation and won’t represent it at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup against the champions of the other regions in world football.
As well as prestige, it means a loss of more than $1 million from participating in next year’s event, which will be held in Brazil.
“It’s a travesty really, and I’ve probably never been this disappointed before,” said the team’s coach, Ricki Herbert, who took the team to the 2010 World Cup. “But we haven’t really played well at the tournament, and let’s give some credit to these guys [New Caledonia]. They worked hard today and were the better side on the day.”
“I’m hugely disappointed. I think that’s 53 games today, and that’s probably the worst moment that I’ve had,” Herbert said.
The All Whites struggle for recognition in the nation that is mad for the All Blacks. Yet, after qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and returning from South Africa undefeated after three games, there was something to build on.
The latest setback is therefore a big one. New Zealand are stuck in Oceania, a region that lacks genuine competition. The confederation was never a strong one, but was seriously weakened in 2006 when Australian, by far its biggest and strongest member, left to join the Asian Football Confederation.
That left New Zealand, hardly a soccer power, as the relatively big fish in the smallest of ponds. The likes of Fiji and the Solomon Islands are just, usually at least, not capable of providing the All Whites with the level of competition that can take the team to the next level.
So missing out on the Confederations Cup in 2013 when it was possible to play the likes of Brazil and world champions Spain is a huge disappointment. Now Tahiti will take its place and represent Oceania.
New Zealand, meanwhile, must think about the 2014 World Cup. A second successive qualification, and a third appearance overall, will certainly banish memories of the last few days. But it will take nothing less.