Steve Deane: All Whites never in with a chance

COMMENT: The end wasn’t pretty when it finally came for New Zealand football’s four-yearly dream.

In reality, the nation’s fate was decided the moment the upstanding citizens at Fifa handed Oceania a two-legged tie against South American opposition as a final hurdle to clear for world cup qualification.

New Zealand has never beaten South American opposition. On the evidence of this tie – when the All Whites failed to register a single legitimate shot on target in 180 minutes – their best chance of doing so remains a tribe of pigmies in the Amazonian high lands declaring independence.

Even then, we’d need home advantage to have much of a chance.

It wasn’t exactly the All Whites’ fault their brave assault on Peru ended in such a deeply cynical, boring-as-bat-droppings crap fight. After slogging to a courageous draw in Wellington, our Kiwi battlers huffed and puffed in Lima with no shortage of vigour.

The tone, though, was set from the outset when the All Whites had what looked like what may have been a decent shout for a penalty. As the Peruvian broadcasters declined to show a replay, it’s hard to know if it was a legitimate claim for a spot kick.

And so it was for the entire contest. 

The ‘high water’ mark for what would have to rank as one of the lowest quality broadcasts this reporter has witnessed came in the 75th minute when the All Whites came close to scoring from a corner, only for the ball to fly over the bar.

Seizing on this clear opportunity to show a replay of a corner (and perhaps settle any debate about which team had wellied the ball into the carpark), the Peruvian broadcast director obliged - screening the replay of Peru’s goal from a corner 10 minutes earlier.

From the outset, a pattern of cynical fouls, time-wasting, feigning injury and dreadful officiating was only punctuated by a bit more interminable time wasting.

In fairness, Christian Ramos’ tap in from a bungled clearance was the decisive moment of the tie. At 2-0, New Zealand’s hope of nicking a 1-1 draw and progressing on away goals was sunk. Unfortunately, the dedication to screening only one side of the tie only exacerbated what a deeply horrendous spectacle it was.

This was as far from a beautiful game as sport can get. From the outset, a pattern of cynical fouls, time-wasting, feigning injury and dreadful officiating was only punctuated by a bit more interminable time wasting.

One can only hope the horrendous spectacle wasn’t witnessed by too many children. Quite how we’d explain to them how this was the pinnacle of the world’s most popular game - a glorious moment that was worth waiting four years for – is beyond comprehension.

Of course, none of that will matter a jot to Peru. That nation will rightly rejoice in having qualified from the ultimate school of hard knocks to earn a place on the biggest global stage in team sports. They might well argue – if they could be bothered – that they simply did what was required; that the unsophisticated New Zealanders dragged them into the gutter.

That would be complete tosh. The truth is that Peru were a severely limited football side, who demonstrated exactly why their appearance in Russia will be their first at a world cup since 1982, and will be mercifully brief.

For New Zealand, the gloomy prospect of another four-yearly cycle that will almost certainly end in a playoff against vastly superior opposition awaits. 

There may be better news ahead in 2026, with plans afoot to increase the tournament finals from 32 to 48 teams and throw a bone to Oceania in the process.

Of course, that’s nine years away. And a lot can happen in nine years. Happy days.

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