The biggest sporting event of 2013 in New Zealand will be the home leg of the 180 minute qualification play-off double header against the 4th placed CONCACAF nation. The prize being the right to go to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Should New Zealand win the home and away tie they would qualify for the biggest team sport event on the planet for only the third time ever.
So New Zealand Football is onto a bit of a winner here; they just need to decide where to host it. The location of the tie is effectively a two horse race between the Wellington Regional Stadium and Eden Park.
Logic says Wellington, but there is a growing amount of noise suggesting there’s a cash cow waiting to be milked, especially if the opponent turns out to USA or Mexico. Those teams currently stand 3rd and 5th respectively in the CONCACAF pool.
That is why the decision has yet to be made, and there is even a rumour going around that NZ football that they will wait until the opponent is known before making the call. That would be in mid-October; exactly one month before the intercontinental play-off.
One of the problems with football in this country is that, despite its dominant position in terms of playing numbers, especially at the junior level, it really has no heritage. Until 2009 that is; the Bahrain game in Wellington with Fallon’s goal and Paston’s penalty save is rightly considered the best sporting atmosphere there has ever been in this country.
It was generally accepted at the time that the atmosphere in the stadium that night, assisted by the All White on the Night campaign played a big part in that victory. It is still the closest a New Zealand venue has come to being called intimidating. Just ask anyone present on the night about the atmosphere; about 200,000 New Zealanders claim to have been there.
When you have home advantage you need to make the most of it.
And NZ football needs to make sure that it does that again. Remember, the most important thing here is to qualify for Brazil. It worked last time, it has history, and a large proportion of the All Whites squad have at some stage played for the Phoenix.
Auckland, and especially Eden Park, has a less successful history with football. Admittedly the road to Spain 1982 was hosted at Mt Smart stadium and aside from an invading fan throwing a can of Lion Red at a referee that went well.
But Mt Smart is now a league ground, and the momentum the sport gained on the back of that campaign famously came to nothing.
It has gone cold since then. For example when deciding on a venue for the 2009 match the venue Auckland put forward was Albany Stadium. That is pretty disrespectful to say the least.
Then there was the LA Galaxy versus Oceania All Stars match in 2008. This was an attempt to replicate the massively successful sold-out match between the Galaxy and the Phoenix the previous year.
But it was a complete disaster. 16,000 people turned up, and the Auckland City Council lost almost $2 million as a result. They are still moaning about it.
There is a precedent set if ever there was one.
So it would be a massive risk to assume that Eden Park would sell out in minutes five years later, whereas NZF should count on the limited Wellington tickets for the sell-out, like 2009, as money in the bank. The place has a grand total of two Phoenix matches as pedigree, no real connection to any of the players and lacks atmosphere at the best of times.
Just ask any league supporter what it is like when the Kiwis or Warriors play there.
And finally, given the aftermath of the Breakers triumph, should NZ qualify for Brazil 2014 could we stomach Len Brown going on about the Auckland All Whites?