The plan is simple: Two games against the Solomon Islands, one home and one away. Win them on aggregate and advance to the intercontinental playoff with South America. Yeah, OFC vs CONMEBOL… that’s gonna be fun. Right now it’s Argentina sitting in that fabled fifth place with four matches remaining although it could as easily be Colombia or Uruguay or Chile or Ecuador, etc. Not Brazil though, they’ve already qualified (here’s to small mercies!).
The All Whites play the Solomons in Auckland on Friday 1 September and then over in Honiara the following Tuesday (5 Sep). Our game’s at night and theirs in the arvo, naturally. Both in quick succession, same international window and everything, then the Intercontinentals take place in early November. Rumour is we’ve got a friendly against Japan in between during the October window – which is a pretty great standard of game at a time when we could really use one. Sweet as… so long as it happens.
Chances are the All Whites will play tight and conservative against the Solomon Islands but still make it through with a couple narrow wins, maybe an away draw. Chances are even greater that they then get pumped by whoever the South American reps are. Chances are we can plot out the rest of the year just like that and with all the fighting talk about getting to Russia 2018… what the hell are we supposed to feel when we don’t get there?
That’s a good question. There’s gonna be an interesting breaking point soon where Uncle Tony and the lads have to accept that they won’t be at the next World Cup – particularly interesting because with the expansion of the tournament this will probably be the last one that we don’t make for a while… let’s not dwell on dumb FIFA decisions though. From an impossible task to a fairly routine one, which is exactly what they have to do now except in the reverse order.
We’ve already had the dummy run of the Confederations Cup. Big talk, lots of bluster about not going just to make up the numbers… only to be comfortably outclassed in five of the six halves we played (not even counting the terrible friendly-match performances). It was a slight disappointment but Hudson praised the effort and commitment of the players and that’s about what we wanna see against Argentina/Whoever. Give us improvements and give us a competitive showing. If the results follow then it’ll be a miracle well beyond putting one past Bahrain back when but if we still lose to a much better team, no dramas there.
Most people probably don’t believe we can honestly deny Lionel Messi or Alexis Sanchez a spot at the World Cup. Until we’re actually eliminated there’s still the tiniest slice of hope however once that final whistle goes it’ll be the end of the whole purpose that Hudson’s been building towards. Huddo’s contract runs until the end of the 2018 World Cup, so mid-next year, but if we’re not in the World Cup then decisions have gotta be made: re-commit or take up opportunities elsewhere. We know that Hudson is nothing if not career-minded. Don’t be shocked if he only has five more games in charge with Aotearoa – that’s a genuine possibility.
Some folks will be stoked with that but you’ve gotta give credit where it’s due. This team is stronger than Ricki Herbert’s lot that made the 2010 WC. Winston Reid has evolved into the new Ryan Nelsen and Chris Wood is better than Shane Smeltz was then (albeit different kinds of strikers). The older dudes have retired and there’s a new generation emerging now with more talent, more pure footballing ability, than we’ve ever seen before. Some of which Hudson gets credit for, most of it’s just coincidence, but you can’t say the All Whites aren’t a more polished and professional unit now than they’ve ever been before. Separate Hudson’s All Whites from NZ Football. Separate the state of the team now from the initial frustrations of a manager who’d pick jokers out of the NZFC at the expense of established internationals. If Hudson leaves at the end of the year then he leaves New Zealand’s national footy team in a better place than he found it, World Cup or no World Cup. What more did you realistically expect?
Yeah, okay the playing style can still use some tweaks. Problem is there are two different types of internationals for the All Whites: games against OFC nations and games against everyone else. Against OFC nations we can dominate through structure and set pieces, against the rest we need a bit more class and sitting ten men behind the ball against Fiji hasn’t lent itself to dribbling ‘round suckers from Russia or Portugal quite yet.
Huddo’s AWs vs OFC: 9 GM | 7 W | 2 D | 0 L | 16 GF | 1 GA | +15 GD
Huddo’s AWs vs The World: 13 GM | 1 W | 3 D | 9 L | 7 GF | 21 GA | -14 GD
They got much better as the Confeds went on… yet by the end Hudson was also moaning about the fitness of his team. So what’s he done? Dropped Clayton Lewis and Bill Tuiloma for being unfit. That’s a message that’ll linger for everyone; that’s good management is what that is. We can do fine without those two in these games but we’ll need all hands on deck in October and November – hence this is the only chance he has to make that statement and shake a thing or two up.
Anthony Hudson’s All Whites have played the Solomons once before and it was back at the 2016 Nations Cup where NZ won 1-0 thanks to a late Luke Adams goal. Easily the toughest game of the group stages for the kiwis there although it should be said that it Huddo rested a few blokes having already qualified. Put it this way: of a starting XI of Marinovic, Ridenton, Boxall, Adams, Brotherton, Hudson-Wihongi, McGlinchey, Dyer, Rojas, Brockie & Barbarouses… there are maybe four dudes who might start at North Harbour Stadium and six of the other seven aren’t even in the current squad. Hey, you remember what that tournament was like.
As the All Whites then won three and drew the other of their second round games – conceding zero goals – the Solomons were almost as impressive in winning three of their four games too. The only defeat was a 3-0 forfeit to Tahiti on account of playing Henry Fa’arodo before he’d served the suspension he picked up at the Nations Cup. Whoops.
But Emmanuel Poila’s injury time goal got them the win in the return leg the following week before twice beating Papua New Guinea to book their place in this playoff final. 3-2 at home (Micah Lea’alafa with the winner after they’d blown a 2-0 lead) and 2-1 over in PNG (coming back from an early deficit to lead at half-time, a lead which they held onto).
Come on, though, the All Whites do their job right and they win this easy. It’s a strong squad that’s been named and even after Tommy Smith was injured they’ve still got James Musa ready to return to the team after three years out. Hasn’t ever played for Huddo yet but with only two other proper central midfielders you’d figure he gets a run here despite not being initially selected. The Moose has just signed with an MLS team, he’s come a long way since the young defender we saw at the Welly Nix back in the day.
There’s a curious thing there contrasting with Bill Tuiloma, who’s also just signed with an MLS team and who also plays central midfield and can also cover the middle of defence. Tui’s looked essential in the past as the only proper holding midfielder in the mix but suddenly here’s another bloke back from the wilderness and ready to steal his spot. Clearly there’s room for both but having come off the bench in all three Confeds games, having then been dropped for a lack of fitness and now having seen another guy step up to challenge for his place in his absence… Billy T’s taken a couple blows lately. Fingers crossed that he responds in the right way because, to be brutally honest, he maybe sorta needed the kick.
Winston Reid Watch: So far so good, but there are still two more Hammers games in which he could get injured so don’t get too excited yet.
Also relevant is that new capper Myer Bevan got red carded for a petty little hack at an opponent (it was hash, check out Flying Kiwis this week for more on that bad boy) which has been rewarded with a three match ban. Add ‘em up and he won’t play another proper game before these qualifiers which is hardly ideal. Neither will the A-League players who are all still in preseason.
There’s a lot that can happen in two weeks and Chris Wood’s transfer situation is one to be aware of. No way that Leeds want to sell him but with multiple Premier League teams hovering around (at least two bids have been reported with Burnley, West Brom, Stoke and Huddersfield all mentioned) there is at least a possibility that something emerges there and the window closes on August 31 in the UK… which is only hours before kick-off in the first leg. One to leave at the back of the mind.
Ah but other than that it’s all routine stuff. Just weird to think that after all the team building, all the performance deferring, all the talk and praise and criticism and inanities… we’re so close now to the boss level of this whole Anthony Hudson/All Whites thing.
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