New Zealand football is once again in the spotlight as the 23-man travelling squad for the first-leg of the All Whites FIFA World Cup intercontinental playoff against Mexico was announced (5.11.2013).
The All Whites are welcoming the return of prolific attacking trio Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory), Chris Wood (Leicester) and Marco Rojas (VFB Stuttgart) into the squad to take on Mexico at the 105,000 capacity Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on 13 November.
Surprise in the mix
New Zealand football coach Ricki Herbert has thrown a surprise into the mix with the inclusion of OFC NZ U-20 representative Storm Roux - who currently plays right-back for A-League team the Central Coast Mariners.
All Whites veteran Rory Fallon (St Johnstone) has made the list. Teen-starlet Bill Tuiloma (Marseille), and Craig Henderson (Mjallby) have also been named.
The All Whites standoff against Mexico promises to write yet another dramatic World Cup qualifying campaign into New Zealand football folklore.
If the All Whites succeed in beating Mexico and reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, it will be just the second time the Kiwis have reached the finals.
The first FIFA World Dup finals reached was Spain, 1982. New Zealand may have excited the tournament early, but Kiwi fans have never forgotten the heroics of players like Wynton Rufer and team coach John Adshead.
But it was the Cinderella story of the All Whites (from a country with a population of just 4.5 million people) at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa that really caught the attention of the world.
A Rory Fallon header, the only goal in the second leg of New Zealand’s World Cup qualifier against Bahrain on 14 November 2009, saw Wellington’s Westpac Stadium erupt into a celebration of epic proportions.
This victory sent the All Whites to the finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa for just the second time in the county’s history.
A gallant performance at the finals saw the All Whites exit at the group stages, but not before the team managed to write their name into the history books as the only undefeated team at the tournament.
It is this never-say-die Kiwi attitude that has the current All Whites squad fired up as they get ready to play one of the hardest games of their lives - at one of the world’s most intimidating stadiums.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert believes the experience of the All Whites and their win over Bahrain four years ago has equipped some of his key players to deal with the pressure of a do-or-die playoff.
The first leg of the intercontinental tie takes place on 14 November (NZT) in Mexico. The return leg will take place at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on 20 November.
Home of football
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and ‘spiritual’ home of football is already looking forward to putting on a show.
New Zealand Football has put out a call for 35,000 supporters to fill the stadium and help send the All Whites all their way to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
New Zealand may be a rugby-mad nation, and home to the world-beating All Blacks, but football's have been kicked about on the fields around the country for decades.
New Zealand may only have one professional football team, the Wellington Phoenix (A-League) but the country has continued to breed players of notable prominence.
NZ on the map
The likes of Ryan Nelsen (former Blackburn Rovers and All Whites captain and current manager of MLS Toronto FC), Winston Reid (current All Whites captain and fierce West Ham United defender) and rising star Marco Rojas (VFB Stuttgart) have all helped to put New Zealand football on the map.
The country is also not shy when it comes to hosting major footballing events. David Beckham and the LA Galaxy team thrilled footballing spectators in Auckland and Wellington in the past. The nation also played host to the highly successful inaugural U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2008.
New Zealand will take things one step further when they host the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 2015. Seven regions across the country will be introduced to the future stars of the world game, in a tournament that is sure to build the profile of the beautiful game in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
New Zealand cities to host world football
Wellington: The ‘spiritual’ home of NZ football