• New Zealand buoyed by Russia 2017 despite three losses
  • Trying to reach their third FIFA World Cup™ next year
  • Pair of two-legged play-offs stand in way of Russia 2018

By Brendon Hanley with New Zealand

“New Zealand proved on the field they’re a team with great spirit, great determination and good capacity.”

That was Portugal coach Fernando Santos after a 4-0 win over the Kiwis that somewhat flattered the European champions. It was a statement that would have been hard to fathom after New Zealand’s poor 2-0 defeat by Russia, but it is now hard to argue with.

A young team in transition, New Zealand come out of the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 feeling like they proved something in the present, but more importantly they showed themselves what they are capable of moving forward.

“Reaching the World Cup has been our goal for three years. We’re on a mission to make that happen, and after these games we have even more confidence than we did before,” said All Whites coach Anthony Hudson, who saw his team also lose out narrowly to Mexico 2-1.

Complicated pathway
In order to complete this mission of returning to Russia next summer, the Kiwis will need to get past the Solomon Islands in the OFC final at the start of September.

Then they will be prohibitive underdogs in a two-legged tie against the fifth-place team from South America in November’s intercontinental play-off. Currently that team is five-time FIFA World Cup™ finalists Argentina.

Such tall tasks are bread and butter for the All Whites, who speak often about their small size and limited expectations but follow that up with fighting words. “We have so much to look forward to, but for now we’re a young team moving in the right direction,” said Hudson. “Whoever we face in November, we have character and a strong mentality and an incredible amount of fight.

“There is nobody in this group who thinks we can’t do it. We all believe we can reach the World Cup.”

Learning curve
The team talked throughout the Confederations Cup about their inexperience at dealing with teams of world-class calibre and how they were learning from the matches quickly. Their first half at the event was by far their worst. Defender Michael Boxall was specific about the areas of improvement looking back.

We need to be more stubborn, stick at what we’re good at. We have to learn to play a pressing game at this level for extended times,” he said, further explaining: “Our improvement will be a mixture of physical, but also mentally, not everyone was able to sustain focus for 90 minutes. Against these top teams, they punish you if you turn off for five seconds."

The team should be fitter and more seasoned by November, and they should have leader Winston Reid back from injury. Captain Chris Wood says the young team will take the bigger challenges as they come. "I’ll believe we’ll be ready for whomever, no matter what quality. We’re always ready to take up challenges, and we want to be here in a year's time."