It was disappointing to see the reaction by the players following last weeks goalless draw with Iraq in South Africa.

You may recall, as the full time whistle was blown, scenes of All Whites hugging each other, celebrating, and goalkeeper Glen Moss with fists clenched cheering New Zealand’s first ever point at this level.

Whilst it’s great to stop a run of eight consecutive Confederations Cup losses, this was a game that New Zealand should be disappointed to draw.  New Zealand should have won this game, not only on the balance of play and the chances created, but also because of the low ranking of their opponents. Iraq by any measure are not a strong side.  At the end of May they were ranked eight places below New Zealand by FIFA. The “post Confed. Cup” July rankings now tell a different story, but at the time, we should have gone into this game expecting to win. Instead, the players reactions told a story of drawing a game they had expected to lose. If the team are jubilant at drawing with Iraq, how can they approach Octobers World Cup Playoff with any confidence whatsoever? Iraq failed to even qualify for the final stages of the Asian qualifying – losing out to Australia and Qatar….. that’s a Qatar who won just one of their eight final round matches.

Having said all that, it was a much improved performance by the All Whites and one which restored a little bit of confidence following the two debacles against Spain and South Africa. At last there appeared to be some communication and understanding at the back, we managed to put some passes together, and at times we even had the audacity to attack and create chances. Of all people Shane Smeltz missed a sitter with just two minutes remaining. If you had to pick a player to have that chance fall to……..

One of the benefits of meeting Iraq in the Confederations Cup of course is that they are a Middle Eastern country, and we are due to play the winner of two Middle East countries to qualify. Whilst obviously not as good as our likely opponents The Iraqis play a similar brand of football to that which we will encounter. Plaudits too for the NZ Football Board for having the foresight to arrange friendly matches against Jordan and Iraq (again) prior to that play off. It has long been a problem for New Zealand that the team just doesn’t get enough matches and can’t begin to gel into a unit. The two matches in Amman will help Ricki Herbert immensely in his preparation, not only in finalising his side, but also in the conditions that will be faced away from home in October.

Good results in those matches is absolutely paramount as self confidence and belief will play a major part in determining November’s outcome. Think back to January 1982 and the play off in Singapore. Adsheads All Whites went there knowing that in their two previous matches, China had failed to even look like scoring. That fact, coupled with the confidence gained in the thumping of Saudi Arabia to get to the play off, meant that the All Whites knew that if they played to anywhere near their potential, they would win, and win they did.

One hopes that this time we approach the playoff matches with some belief that we will win and not with the Confederations Cup attitude of “a close loss is something to be proud of.” After all we will be playing a team currently ranked in the 60s in the world. There’s every chance that the America’s play off will involve Argentina & Mexico currently ranked number 8 and number 33.


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