Most coaches plan for worst-case scenarios, but few expect to see them unfold right before their eyes.
That, however, is exactly what happened to Ricki Herbert one hot afternoon in the Solomon Islands back in June, as he watched his side – four-time winners and defending champions New Zealand – lose in the OFC Nations Cup semi-finals. Two years after their landmark FIFA World Cup™ appearance, the All Whites had turned pale. “I’ve had 52 matches in charge and this is one of the worst moments,” Herbert said after the game.
Jake Gleeson and Ian Hogg were both involved in that surprise defeat, with the former starting in goal and the latter on the bench. The pair, who play together for MLS side Portland Timbers, are now symbols of a new generation of Kiwi players responsible for delivering fresh success. And they both have the patience to match their lofty ambitions.
“My time will come,” Gleeson, New Zealand’s third-choice goalkeeper, told FIFA.com. “I’m still young and I have plenty of time to grow. The junior sides are a good platform, but the step up in quality from there to the All Whites is still very big.”
Along with Gleeson, Hogg was part of the U-23 side that took part in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in the summer. “It was a very productive experience, one that helped to build our confidence,” said the young defender, who scored for the senior side in a friendly against El Salvador in May.
“Our coach in London was Ricki Herbert’s assistant, which helped us feel a little more relaxed. I built a good relationship with him, and that will help me as I continue to carve out a place for myself with the All Whites. This is the ideal time for it, as I get more exposure in MLS and I can better demonstrate what I’m capable of.”
Only victory will do
The pair, who were used by Herbert in New Zealand’s second-round FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, continue to learn patiently and bide their time for their next opportunity. “Whenever the squad gets together for qualifiers, the coach always has the same message: we must do the job and do it well. Only victory will do,” Hogg said.
“The competition is improving in Oceania, where teams are unpredictable and players don’t really stick to their positions,” he continued. “So we know that our concentration and intensity has to be absolutely spot-on. New players have come in, and it will take a bit of time for things to gel. But we’ll see a much better New Zealand team in the near future.”
Gleeson, who burst on to the international scene at FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, believes stability and continuity will be key on the road to Brazil 2014. “The top priority is to qualify, and for that we need our veterans,” he said. “The coach will have time to work with the youngsters after that.”
“Being in a zone without any big opponents means that the staff can give playing time and experience to new players like me who need it,” he continued. “But the other nations in Oceania are improving, they are better organised and have good coaches. We saw at the Nations Cup that they are capable of causing upsets.”
Expectations have risen following New Zealand’s comfortable opening two victories, but Hogg and Gleeson are confident the All Whites can handle the pressure. “There is more expectation, but that’s normal,” Hogg said.
Gleeson, for his part, added: “More of our players are playing high-level club football, our youngsters are progressing and the staff know where they want to go. We’re heading in the right direction.”
“The coach encourages us not to be scared of making mistakes and to play with more freedom on the pitch, but without being naive,” added Hogg, a fan of Herbert’s expansive style. New Zealand will be hoping the approach yields positive results when they face Tahiti on Friday and again on Tuesday. Gleeson and Hogg, meanwhile, will be keen to prove that experience is not all that counts.