It has arrived. The four yearly nail-biter that is the home & away Intercontinental play-off to decide who gets to go to the FIFA World Cup.
Last time around a lot of little things fell in the All Whites’s favour to book those plane tickets to South Africa. This time it has not gone quite to plan. For a start, if NZ’s opponents were again from the Asian confederation then tomorrow’s clash would be in Jordan.
And there is the not insignificant fact that, unlike in 2009, there was no Confederations Cup to get proper match time against proper opponents.
On the positive side, the opponents are Mexico, who have been a complete rabble in stumbling through to this point.
On the negative side, the opponents are Mexico, who are still ranked 24th in the world and possess arguably the world’s most intimidating stadium.
Yes, that is what awaits the All Whites in the morning; even getting through the airport earlier this week seemed a daunting task for the players.
It would be stating the obvious to point out that the All Whites have not had the best of build-ups. The Confeds Cup absence mentioned above, the comically chaotic warm-up matches in the USA and Trinidad & Tobago were both in their own hands and do not reflect well on NZ Football. The injury to Winston Reid on the other hand was cruel luck. No planning can cater for your best player and captain going down so close to this crucial week.
Before Reid went down there was the feeling that the All Whites could have a reasonable chance of going to Mexico and parking a really big bus. And Herbert’s sides have a pretty good record of this. Instead, the defensive line is being anchored by Ivan Vicelich, 48, of Auckland City. And they will need to be careful; the vast majority of the side are a yellow card away from not being eligible for Wellington.
The midfield has always been the weak point and this time around it is clubless Jeremy Christie filling the void by playing his first game for the All Whites in almost four years. It isn’t really worth dwelling on.
So lock yourselves in. If the All Whites can return to Wellington with a one goal deficit then anything will be possible.
From the Silver Lining Department. Should the All Whites not progress at least they got to play at the Azteca (even the couple of guys currently out of work) and the ESPN rights for the return leg goes a reasonable way to offsetting the FIFA windfall for competing at a World Cup.