All or nothing for All Whites
The All Whites have one shot to be the 32nd – and final team – to qualify for this year’s Football World Cup.
A win in Wednesday’s one-off intercontinental playoff game against Costa Rica in Qatar will send the All Whites to football’s showpiece event for just the third time.
The All Whites last qualified for the world cup with a 1-0 win over Bahrain in Wellington in 2009, which propelled the All Whites to the 2010 world cup in South Africa where the New Zealanders ended the tournament unbeaten.
Since then, the All Whites have failed to win intercontinental playoffs against Mexico in 2013 and Peru in 2017 – keeping the New Zealanders out of the pinnacle tournament for more than a decade.
Wednesday’s game is against a Costa Rica team that sits 70 places higher than New Zealand in the world rankings, but All Whites coach Danny Hay was optimistic.
“We’ve got a really good chance, a really good shot, at doing something special but we know we’re up against a very good side as well and they’re certainly not going to roll over for us,” Hay said.
“It’s 11 players against 11 players and it’s going to come down to small moments in the game that will decide it.”
The winner of the playoff would join former world cup winners Spain and Germany as well as Japan in Group E at the world cup in November and December.
All Whites captain Winston Reid, striker Chris Wood and defender Tommy Smith were the young guns of New Zealand’s last world cup squad.
That trio is joined by a new crop of players that Hay backs to get the win in Doha where the temperatures would reach over 40 degrees celsius.
“We’ve got an exciting group of young players starting to emerge and I think a lot of people are probably already looking ahead to 2026 when some of them will be at their prime but the reality is none of us have got a crystal ball we don’t know what the future holds, our time is now.”
Reid missed the All Whites’ last warm-up game with a niggling injury, but he said he was fit and the team was ready to take on the five-time world cup participants, despite the Central American side playing six times as many competitive matches as the New Zealand side over the last five years.
“Over the last couple of years, even though it has been difficult for us because of Covid, I think the group has gotten better and we’re here at the moment and it’s just about trying to figure a way to get past our last obstacle which is Costa Rica and hopefully we will be able to do it,” Reid said.
Getting to a second world cup is on Reid’s mind as the former English Premier League player winds down his career but he also knows how much it means to the entire squad – and those who have gone before or have been left behind – to get New Zealand back on the world stage.
“Do I feel pressure? Yeah of course you always feel pressure but you want to do well for your country and not only myself but the rest of the players and staff around the team have been focussed for such a long time on this moment.”
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