Aotearoa / New Zealand
- Capital: Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-Tara
- Official Languages: English, Māori, NZ Sign Language
- Nicknames: All Whites (men’s team); Football Ferns (women’s team)
- Association: New Zealand Football (NZF)
- FIFA Code: NZL
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (1982 & 2010)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (6 times)
- Best OFC Nations Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (5 times)
- Best OFC Nations Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (6 times)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 47th (August 2002)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 16th (December 2013, July-September 2015)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 161st (April-May 2016)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 24th (December 2006)
- Most Capped Player: Ria Percival – 151 caps [as of April 2021]
- Top Scorer: Amber Hearn – 54 goals
New Zealand / Aotearoa is an island country consisting of two main islands and 700 smaller islands, situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean and about 2000km east of Australia. Originally part of the British Empire, it gained its independence in 1947 with the formal adoption of the Statute of Westminster, with the NZF being accepted as a full member of FIFA a year later. However football has been played in the country from as early as the late 19th century with British sporting pioneers bringing football, cricket and especially rugby (for which the country is most well-known for in sporting circles) to the then Crown Colony, with the NZF being founded as early as 1891.
New Zealand are considered the biggest nation within the OFC and are the most successful side within the Pacific confederation having won OFC Nations Cup five times with their men’s side (nicknamed the All Whites in contrast to their successful rugby union side nicknamed the All Blacks) and six times with their women’s side (name the Football Ferns). In addition, they are the only country from the current OFC membership to have qualified for both versions of the World Cup with the All Whites qualifying for the 1982 and 2010 editions, whilst the Football Ferns have qualified for five editions of the tournament, most recently in 2019. In addition, New Zealand are scheduled to be co-hosts of the 2023 Women’s World Cup alongside neighbours (and AFC member) Australia, with games planned to be played in Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau, Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Dunedin / Ōtepoti, and Hamilton / Kirikiriroa.
There are continuous rumours and suggestions that New Zealand will follow Australia’s path and leave the smaller OFC confederation to become part of a ‘bigger’ confederation, either joining the AFC or even CONMEBOL, to help continue development of football on the islands. Something that, which has been suggested by some critics, could be hindered whilst continuing to be a member of the OFC. However for the time being, the Kiwis are still considered the flag bearers and powerhouses of the OFC confederation.
Talking about a country who have qualified for two men’s World Cups and five women’s World Cups, are considered the strongest nation within the OFC and are the most successful country in OFC Nations Cup history, and are scheduled to co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, we interviewed the excellent Brandon Clarke. He is a New Zealand-based football fan and groundhopper (visiting 246 grounds in 29 countries) who is a fan of both the A-League side Wellington Phoenix and the NZF Championship side Team Wellington, as well as a supporter of the Football Ferns and the All Whites. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @kiwibardy
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
- 165 caps for New Zealand [at under 20 and senior level].
- Former Football Ferns Captain.
- Debut at 16. 50th cap at 21. First NZ footballer (male or female ) to reach 100 caps.
Abby is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the world. She won the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Defender of the Year award in 2018 and was named to the NWSL Best XI in 2018 also. She has won the NWSL (the world’s top competitive league) 3 times [once with Western New York Flash and twice with North Carolina Courage], and the NWSL Shield (the knockout cup competition) 3 times with the NC Courage.
- 4 x FIFA Women’s World Cups appearances (2007, 2011, 2015, 2019)
- 1 x FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup appearances (2008)
- 2 x Olympics appearances (2008, 2016)
- 3 x NWSL Champion (2016, 2018, 2019)
- 3 x NWSL Shield (2017, 2018, 2019)
In February 2017, whilst the captain of the Football Ferns, Abby announced her retirement: “Due to the unfortunate and unfavourable circumstances within the organisation that is NZF, it is with regret and great sadness that today is the day that I announce my retirement from the international game. Without being able to justify my involvement any longer I will be stepping back in the hopes to create change for the current and future generations of NZ footballers.“
As a direct result of this action, and that of 10 other Football Ferns players who subsequently wrote to New Zealand Football and collectively refused to play again for NZ under coach Andreas Heraf, New Zealand now has equal pay and equal conditions for male and female footballers. This (along with Australia’s later adoption of the same policy) was cited by FIFA as crucial in awarding the joint hosting rights to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to New Zealand and Australia – the first time either country has hosted a full FIFA World Cup.
I’ve met Abby several times. She is my footballing hero.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Abby Erceg, definitely.
In the men’s game, in the past two names stand out, both from our history making 1982 World Cup squad (The first time New Zealand qualified.)
Wynton Rufer – New Zealand’s most successful male footballer (Oceania Footballer of the Century 1900-1999), and captain of the 1982 squad, the late great Steve Sumner – who the award given to the best player of the National League final is named after.
Of the current All Whites team Sarpreet Singh is a huge cult hero. He is a 22 year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Bayern Munich and is an exceptionally talented player.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from New Zealand currently?
Chris Wood [forward who plays for English Premier League side Burnley], or Sarpreet Singh. Wood has the credentials and experience [currently the country’s vice-captain and the second-highest goalscorer for NZ], whilst Singh has the world at his feet.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The All Whites (men’s team) is difficult to assess their CURRENT state. We hardly ever play games. The last games we played were:
15th Nov 2019: Lost 3-1 to Republic of Ireland in Dublin
17th Nov 2019: Lost 1-0 to Lithuania in Vilnius
Before that we played 3 games in June 2018, against Kenya [losing 2-1], Chinese Taipei [winning 1-0], and India [winning 2-1] all in Mumbai.
The last time the All Whites played in New Zealand was 11 November 2017, in the Intercontinental Playoff against Peru to try and qualify for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia. We drew 0-0 at home and 4 days later lost 2-0 in Lima, Peru.
Being located where New Zealand is means it is virtually impossible for us to get home fixtures. FIFA has a rule that during international windows, if a player crosses three time zones travelling to play for their national team they cannot play 2 games in the window. This means if we ever get anyone to come to NZ for a friendly they can’t play two games, because almost every nation in the world needs to cross 3 time zones to get here AND all of our European based players have to cross 12 or 13. This means nearly all our All Whites games are played at least 11 hours flight time away from New Zealand and we hardly ever get to see the All Whites play at home, except in the intercontinental playoff once every World Cup cycle.
We don’t even get to play World Cup Qualifiers at home (usually). There are 13 members of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). The combination of (a) the island nations limited resources and (b) the vast distances involved and lack of air routes direct between all the islands means travelling to play traditional home and away qualifiers is economically and time-wise unviable. Sometimes, it can take up to 4 days to travel from one Oceania nation to another, and if Niue becomes a full member [it had been an associate member between 2006 to 2021 before having its membership revoked by the OFC], there is only one flight per week into and out of Niue.
Because of this Ocenaia plays their World Cup qualifiers as a tournament over 2 weeks. All the nations travel once to the host nation and group games are played 2 per day. Usually you get 2 days off between group games. Then there are semi finals and finals. Each OFC nation takes a turn hosting the tournament. That means that New Zealand gets to host the tournament once every 52 years.
Having said that our men’s team is close to as strong as it has ever been at the moment. Our youth development programmes are very strong, and the number of, and the quality of, our players playing professionally overseas is as high as it has ever been.
The Football Ferns (women’s team) is a whole different story. We are currently ranked 22nd in the world (compared to All Whites‘ 118th position) and are co-hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. We have qualified for every World Cup since 2007 and regularly play the top countries in the world. Our U17 Women’s team finished THIRD at the FIFA U17 World Cup in Uruguay in 2018.
Highlight of my football life that day was!
Q. Are there any New Zealander players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
- Anna Leat [19 year-old goalkeeper currently at American side Georgetown Hoyas]
- Paige Satchell [23 year-old forward playing for Australian side Canberra United]
- Sarpreet Singh
- Callum McCowatt [21 year-old forward at Danish side FC Helsingør]
- Elijah Just [20 year-old forward also at FC Helsingør]
- Liberato Cacace [20 year-old left-back currently at Belgian side Sint-Truiden]
The future is very very bright.
Q. Looking at New Zealand’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Men: That’s easy. The Bahrain game [in the AFC-OFC intercontinental playoff for the 2010 World Cup]. The biggest crowd in NZ football history (37,000) and the biggest goal [NZ won the second leg 1-0 to qualify for the World Cup].
Women: 1st June, 2019, Brighton: England Lionesses 0 – Football Ferns 1 (Sarah Gregorius). New Zealand’s only ever win against England.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
None that springs to mind. As discussed previously, our geographic location presents enormous challenges – just getting players to be released by their clubs to play for New Zealand is a battle because of the huge travel times. Clubs are required to release players in FIFA windows, but sometimes they are needed to be released for 6 days – it can take up to 48 hours travel time to get from Europe to some of our fixtures, and 48 hours back again. Clubs are not used to this, and say why do we need to release you for 6 days when other countries are happy with 2? It puts a strain on the players relationship with their club, so often we don’t call on players until the big games. But that means when we do play often it’s not our full strength squad, and that means we often have unexpectedly poor results.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the New Zealand national team?
The friendships you make with other fans, both Kiwis and from other countries.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No. Hardly anyone can go to away games. There might be 3 or 4 people, not counting family members, at a lot of games. At the OFC-CONMEBOL Intercontinental playoff [to determine qualification for the 2018 World Cup] in Lima, Peru in 2017 there were about 50 fans. Which was a HUGE turnout.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Yes, the Football Ferns shirt at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. The fern design on the sleeves were awesome.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the New Zealander national team?
Home games. Somehow. Sometime.
A massive thank you very much / kia ora to Brandon for answering our questions on the All Whites and Football Ferns. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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