Almanac Soccer: All Whites off to Russia, in 2017 at least.

@hamishneal

World champions Germany commenced their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-0 victory over Ukraine on Sunday in the French city of Lille but a player toiling away in Germany’s fourth division, Stefan Marinovic, spared the blushes of New Zealand football in Port Moresby on Saturday to help secure the All Whites’ passage to the Confederations Cup next year in Russia.

 

Goal-keeper Marinovic of SpVgg Unterhaching helped deny two Papua New Guinea penalty attempts during the shoot-out in the Oceania Football Confederation Nations Cup final after the hosts and New Zealand had finished locked 0-0 after 120 minutes of, at times, turgid football.

 

THE FINAL

Marinovic’s two penalty saves set the stage for the All Whites to triumph 4-2 during ‘dot shot’ lotto. Marinovic halted attempts from Raymond Gunemba (ironically the tournament’s top goal-scorer) and Koriak Upaiga. Marinovic displayed great athleticism to parry Genumba’s attempt onto the post before it fizzed away from the goal having early saved Upaiga’s strike. Former Melbourne Victory attacker Marco Rojas thumped home the Kiwis fifth penalty attempt past Ronald Warisan in the PNG goal after Super Sport United striker Jeremy Brockie was the only All White to miss when he struck wide.

 

The result means the Kiwi side are the latest nation to join Russia (as hosts) with Australia, Chile, Mexico and Germany next year in the World Cup warm-up event. The winners of the next African Cup of Nations and the champions* of the Euro 2016 tournament now underway are the two sides to be confirmed.

 

The manner of the victory was utterly unconvincing in a game which saw the normally effective Michael McGlinchey spray a late free kick into the air, failing to get anywhere near the target, and saw stand-in skipper Rory Fallon miss attempts from close range. PNG, who dominated possession in the first half, nearly struck five minutes before the break through Nigel Dabingyaba which would have been a very interesting turn of events for All Whites mentor Anthony Hudson and his team. Interestingly PNG coach Flemming Serritslev didn’t make any changes to his side content for the locals to be spurred on by the crowded Sir John Guise Stadium.

 

Having topped their group the home side (who entered the tournament as rank outsiders of the eight sides at 198) were often the more positive in attack in the final but South Melbourne defender Luke Adams was solid for the All Whites and PNG failed to nudge home their chances when they came handing New Zealand a fifth continental title.

 

THE TOURNAMENT

On face value fans of the top leagues/nations would scoff at the result, and probably even the staging of the tournament and they would be right to a degree given the farcical situations that played out. These included the whole tournament taking place on the one pitch. Despite two-day breaks between games there were some other fixtures played as PNG gears up to host the Women’s Under 20 World Cup in November. Coupled with the inability to access the other relevant stadium in Port Moresby it meant simultaneous kick-offs in the final round of pool games went out the window and led to the Solomon Islands playing for the 1-0 loss against New Zealand after the Kiwi side went ahead in the final ten minutes. This meant they qualified for the semi-finals when they knew what was required after Vanuatu beat Fiji 3-2 earlier in the afternoon. That can’t be allowed to happen again.

 

Aside from finalists New Zealand and Papua New Guinea who beat New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, respectively in the semi-finals, those four sides will be joined by Tahiti and the Fijians in the next phase of OFC World Cup qualifying commencing in November by virtue of the latter two sides finishing third in their pools in the tournament. The third place finish for the Tahitians and Fijians were disappointing for each side given Fiji’s successful Olympic qualifying campaign and the fact Tahiti were defending champions. The bottom-placed sides in the pool phase (Samoa and Vanuatu) miss the next phase, a particularly galling result for Vanuatu given in group B, aside from New Zealand, each side won one game and qualification came down to goal difference and the lack of simultaneous kick-offs we outlined disadvantaged Fiji and Vanuatu.

 

The semi-final day will also be remembered for the fact the matches nearly didn’t go ahead after unrest which saw local police fire at protesters. Whilst it wasn’t on the extreme of what happened in Paris during their friendly game last November it is not an ideal scenario for a continental showpiece.

 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE ALL WHITES

A combination of injuries, apathy, unresolved eligibility concerns, and issues around drug tests (we will get to that) meant Hudson, 35, wasn’t able to pick the below starting XI to play in the tournament. At least half of the players would be considered first choice or line-ball first choice in their positions. Caps in brackets.

 

GK: Glen Moss (26)
DEF: Storm Roux (7), Andrew Durante (9), Winston Reid (19), Deklan Wynne (3),
MID: Alex Rufer (2), Ryan Thomas (4), Clayton Lewis (3), Henry Cameron (1)
FWD: Shane Smeltz, (51) Ryan De Vries (1)

 

Added to the above, defender Themi Tzimopoulos and midfielder Luka Prelivic were suspended for the final after the duo accumulated two yellow cards across the first four games of the tournament. Leeds United Striker and tournament skipper Chris Wood also missed the final to attend his sister’s wedding, a fact only revealed by the New Zealand camp after they won the semi-final on the Wednesday.

 

Prelivic, who may be known to Victorian readers, is an interesting case himself. The Pascoe Vale midfielder, who has played in the NYL for both Melbourne-based A-League sides, was notionally the replacement for Smeltz in terms of when he was drafted into the squad but played the role of Lewis who missed the tournament due to a possible drug irregularity which saw New Zealand Football withdraw the Auckland City midfielder from the squad prior to the tournament. Quite why the asthma medication Lewis was taking wasn’t applied for under a Therapeutic Use Exemption is a question itself for New Zealand Football.

 

I’ve excluded Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith from the XI and he probably should be known as ‘Macbeth’ in New Zealand football circles. The defender, who featured at the 2010 World Cup, is unlikely to represent the All Whites as long as Hudson is coach given Smith’s reluctance to commit to national team fixtures in the past.

 

A handful of players exceeded expectations during the tournament, and it was probably players we least expected, broadcaster Jason Pine highlighted five players and I would add I would have preferred to see Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi play more in the tournament. The Auckland City midfielder played out of position in a back three in one game which further enhanced his reputation and South Melbourne defender Luke Adams was at long odds to play every minute of the tournament several months ago but ended up doing so.

 

TIME FOR SOME OFC LOVE FROM NEAR NEIGHBOURS

Just as it was until 2006 the OFC is not just about one ‘big’ member association so here are some thoughts out of the event and the other OFC nations. The OFC should be criticised for allowing the tournament on only one use pitch. Yielding to the Queensland Rugby League to accommodate two of the PNG Hunters matches on June 4 and 11 in the second-tier Queensland Cup was daft and they should have done their best to have two venues available to ensure the integrity of the final round draw. The waterfront location of the National Football Stadium would also have meant they tournament was further away from the afore-mentioned protests. A safety issues for players and fans alike.

 

Despite the venue access issue the OFC should be lauded for their on-line streaming of the event which allowed people from almost anywhere that didn’t have a TV carrier covering the event to follow the game live. Gordon Watson is in the top three play-by-play football commentators (TV and radio) in this part of the world and his ability to retain details about all the squads, and call two games a day, was impressive. The stream was of good quality with few drop outs and I’m hoping it’s around for the World Cup qualifying games.

 

In terms of using the tournament to improve the game in the region I’m hopeful some initiative linked to the A-League will help.

 

As noted on Twitter by Newcastle Jets media manager Ben O’Neill there are several ways OFC players could be incorporated into the top flight in Australia and New Zealand. Currently the FFA, via Australian federal government initiatives, support a range of development programs in the region however O’Neill’s move (with the players excluded from counting on the salary cap) and others would assist in developing a professional player pathway.

 

Two PNG squad members who could benefit from the move would be striker Dabingyaba and defender Felix Komolong. Dabingyaba, 23, was crucial for PNG in the semi-final scoring the decisive goal against Solomon Islands with an 82nd minute header. Felix Komolong 19, was one of PNG’s best and he was able to limit NZ attacking moves down his flank in the final and would not look out of place in the A-League. The right-back has previously trialled with German outfit Werder Bremen.

 

Gunemba, despite the penalty faux pas, struck five goals to claim the tournament golden boot and PNG skipper David Muta was the tournament’s Golden Ball recipient as the MVP. They could also be candidates for this initiative.

 

These players may not start in the A-League and could, in theory, commence as NPL players for the clubs with that acting as a trial period. This would be more efficient than a handful of trials over a short period in the A-League pre-season. Without putting too much of a simplistic view on it, the next Roy Krishna (of Fiji and Wellington Phoenix) is out there and you don’t need agents from Europe selling you over-hyped and over-priced players.

 

Hopefully, A-League clubs that were scouting the tournament have drawn their own conclusions and identified some players of worth to them. Writing in Fairfax publications Mick Cockerill has suggested an OFC team based in Auckland could be a sustainable A-League franchise and whilst this idea has merit placing players into clubs, via either normal recruiting or have allocated spots, is an immediate move which could bear fruit with minimal financial cost to the clubs. An OFC-backed club could happen down the track but let’s not wait for that to happen.

 

TO RUSSIA, WITH THE LONG BALL?

Returning to the All Whites. Launching the long ball between Marinovic/Moss at the back to Smeltz/Wood at the front next year in Russia will be a recipe for disaster against sides like Chile and Germany so Hudson has 12 months to find a style which fits his best 11 – most of whom didn’t play on Saturday.

 

Claiming a fifth regional championship is fine but it will count for little if the squad doesn’t progress over the next 12 months. The header upon header punctuated by a long ball or shot from range will be forgotten if Hudson can effectively bring players back into the fold. The time for experimenting with the side is over and Hudson needs to get his best eleven, and more, into camp at every opportunity. Aside from locking in opponents for the October window (Hudson is eschewing September games) the former Bahrain coach must get a clear commitment from those who have been/feel ostracised (through his own fault or not) so he can be clear on those committed to the program.

 

On better pitches New Zealand’s pacey attackers will be able to cause trouble for international sides but they will need to find out in coming games which players can sustain this and for how long in matches. The likes of Monty Patterson, one of the best for NZ at the Under 20 World Cup last year, will be useful late in games as substitutes. The defence, at it’s best, now looks more solid and has competition for spots across the board, something which was a major issue when Hudson was appointed in August 2014.

 

The All Whites’ best eleven has players from England‘s top two tiers, the Dutch top flight and a core of solid A-League performers. Add to that the team bonding which has hopefully occurred amongst the fringe players in PNG Hudson may have done enough to produce a side capable of performing well in the coming months. A two pronged-goal presents a challenge for Hudson and his team in the coming 12 months. New Zealand football fans were sold a vision by the former Newport County manager and right now the path is clear but many still aren’t sure the right prescription has been fitted to the glasses.

 

*Should Germany win Euro 2016 the second-placed side will qualify for the Confederations Cup.

 

This tournament review first appeared on From the sideline of sport

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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