All Whites need more top level games

The All Whites need more competitive football at a higher level if they are to raise the profile of the game in the rugby-mad nation, coach Danny Hay said after his side were eliminated in their World Cup playoff.

Chris Wood shoots for goal during New Zealand All Whites v Costa Rica, FIFA World Cup 2022 play-off match, Qatar, 2022.

Chris Wood
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The New Zealanders lost a controversial intercontinental playoff tie against Costa Rica in Doha despite dominating yesterday’s match.

It was their fourth successive playoff as winners of the Oceania confederation qualifiers but the third defeat in a row, following losses to Mexico ahead of 2014 finals and Peru for the last World Cup in Russia.

New Zealand were again Oceania winners in the 2022 preliminaries but played only five matches against small Pacific island nations.

“We need meaningful games at a higher level,” Hay said. “It’s difficult when we’re not getting consistent games that actually matter.

“It’s one thing us playing friendlies against quality opposition but games where you have that pressure element attached to them, where you have to win, I think that’s something that would be very nice for us to have on a regular basis.

“And I think it would bring far more profile for the game because one big game every four years isn’t enough,” he said.

Oceania have been guaranteed one slot in the expanded 48-team World Cup in North America in 2026 and, given New Zealand’s dominance of the region, they will be odds on favourites to reach the finals in four years’ time.

Meanwhile Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said he felt a sense of vindication for persuading veteran players like Keylor Navas and Bryan Ruiz to stay on with the national team after they helped secure World Cup qualification.

In goal for Costa Rica was 35-year-old Navas, who has won more than 100 caps, while 36-year-old forward Ruiz also featured.

“I had to persuade them to stay on and play another World Cup and I’m glad I did,” said Fernando Suarez.

“There were many who criticised that but they were an important part of the success of this squad.

“This group is spectacular, I can’t describe it. It is a spectacular human group. With these players it is much easier to do things.”

The prize for beating New Zealand was a place in Group E alongside Spain, Germany and Japan at the finals, which start on Nov. 21.

“Ah, yes I forgot about that,” said the coach when asked about his team’s prospects in a tough group. “Tomorrow I’ll have to start thinking about everything. But we’ll have to improve and I hope in the next few months we can do that.

“We want to be competitive against these countries, I think that is important.”

-Reuters

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