FIFA confirm major World Cup changes for All Whites

Author
Michael Burgess, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 20 Nov 2021, 11:47AM
The All Whites will avoid the daunting prospect of an away match in hostile territory. (Photo / Photosport)
The All Whites will avoid the daunting prospect of an away match in hostile territory. (Photo / Photosport)

FIFA confirm major World Cup changes for All Whites

Author
Michael Burgess, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 20 Nov 2021, 11:47AM

FIFA have confirmed major changes to format of the World Cup Intercontinental play-offs.

As first revealed by the Herald on Friday in a world exclusive, the playoffs will take place over a single leg, at a neutral venue.

That move is a profound shift with tradition, as the intercontinental contests have always previously decided on a home and away basis, right back to 1985 when Australia faced Scotland in Glasgow and Melbourne in the first cross confederation World Cup qualifying tie of the modern era.

FIFA said the games will take place on June 13 and 14 next year, which promises to be a gripping 48 hour period that will decide the last two nations to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The intercontinental play-offs were originally scheduled to take place next March but were rescheduled to June 2022 due to the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the scheduling of World Cup qualifiers globally.

The radical switch could have significant implications for both New Zealand Football and the All Whites.

The All Whites have qualified for each of the last three intercontinental playoffs, facing Bahrain in 2009, Mexico in 2013 and Peru in 2017.

They will be favoured to reach that stage again, as Oceania's top nation, with the Oceania qualifying tournament to be held in Qatar next March.

In football terms, there would be pros and cons for the All Whites with the new format, should they progress.

New Zealand would be the underdog whomever they face – either an Asian, North/Central American or South American team – but the reduction of the tie to a single 90-minute contest may reduce the perceived advantage of their higher ranked opponent.

The All Whites will also avoid the daunting prospect of an away match in hostile territory.

But given what is at stake, the matches will be extremely tight contests and the New Zealand team will be much less battle-hardened than their opponents, who have come through elongated regional qualifying series.

The change is also unfortunate for New Zealand football fans, as the intercontinental home legs have become quadrennial highlights of the football calendar since 2009, generating huge anticipation and attracting sellout crowds to Wellingon.

Those games were massive money spinners for NZF, via ticket sales and also millions generated from the sale of overseas television rights.

The draw to decide the confederation match ups will take place on Friday 26 November at 5pm in Zurich, Switzerland (5am 27 November NZT).

Aside from the Oceania winner, the fifth placed South American nation, the fourth ranked CONCACAF team and the fifth best Asian side will also be in the draw.