- New Zealand’s four-year wait to battle for a World Cup ticket finally arrives
- The All Whites famously qualified for 2010 via an intercontinental play-off
- Coach Anthony Hudson says he has ‘dreamed of this moment for years’
New Zealand head into this week’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ play-off against Peru as outsiders, at least on paper. The team’s are separated by over 100 places on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking with Peru hardened by a South American qualifying campaign.
But first appearances can be deceptive. New Zealand results’ chart has been skewed by the fact they rarely play at home. In fact, they have not played a top-100 nation on home soil for three and a half years. Despite this, the All Whites have shown clear improvement during the current World Cup cycle under coach Anthony Hudson.
A competitive performance at this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup was sandwiched by consistent showings at international level. And for the first time, New Zealand’s squad has consisted entirely of players based at professional clubs.
Ahead of Saturday’s match in Wellington and Wednesday’s return in Lima, Hudson tells FIFA.com about his team’s growth, the challenges of a four-year program centered around the play-offs and the dream of recreating the All Whites’ famous qualification for South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: How much has the team grown over recent times?
Anthony Hudson: We can see the progression in the team, and we now have healthy competition within the squad. We have some good balance in terms of having strength all over the pitch. Now we have to take all these good performances against top teams, and we have to really believe. That is the next step for us.
Recent performances, including at this year’s Confederations Cup, suggests the team have every reason to believe in their ability against some of the traditional big teams.
This time last year we went away to USA [drew 1-1] and Mexico [lost 2-1], and we perhaps surprised ourselves, and that was a turning point for us. We have had a handful of games against top teams, and we have to focus on those [strong performances].
Belief is not a vague thing that we just talk about, but it is based on facts. Away from home we have taken teams right to the edge and been competitive. We know we have it within this squad to cause an upset, and know we have to turn that into belief.
How problematic has it been not playing many matches at home?
We have been to many places all over the world, and finally we are playing a big team at home. We want to give everyone a little taste of what we have experienced over the past couple of years.
Does the idea of recreating that famous win in 2009 provide a boost?
Everyone I have met in football talks about that game, and that it was one of the most amazing experiences in New Zealand sport. The interest in this game is massive and everyone is behind the team. It will be amazing to play in front of a packed stadium for the first time in years. I can’t tell you how amazing that is after building for three years.
Personally, I have dreamt about this moment for three years. As much as we imagine it will be a great occasion, we want to go to the World Cup, so it is about playing the game rather than the occasion.
How challenging has it been to have had one eye on this month over the past few years?
It has been a period of getting our heads down, not complaining and working incredibly hard. Now we have depth in every position, and we have all best players available. The team has grown and is as strong as it ever has been since I have been here.