Mexico Exposes Inherent Flaws in New Zealand Football
A couple of days ago I was fortunate enough to tune into the match involving Mexico and New Zealand, a friendly preparatory fixture for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa 2010.
As a New Zealander, I was of course supporting the "All Whites", as they are known—which, by the way, has alarming connotations when it is taken into account where the world cup is being held, what with the whole apartheid history.
Back to the game, though. I was hoping to see the New Zealand side acquit themselves well against one of the top 20 nations of the world.
Unfortunately, I was witness to the yawning gulf that still exists between New Zealand and the rest of the world when it comes to playing good football. The New Zealanders were up against it of course, but that did not excuse the lack of ideas and technique they displayed.
It became apparent, after the opening exchanges, that New Zealand was in for a torrid time in the match, and that they would not see much of the ball. The unpleasant thing for New Zealand fans was the way that the ball was wasted when it did come into New Zealand's possession.
The staple decision from the Kiwi side was to play a couple of passes and then lump it up the field in the hope that it would be run onto or won by the strikers. It was almost laughable that this approach was used because the Mexicans, from the outset, were well set up, and extremely confident in all facets of the game.
They were not bothered by this approach and dealt with it easily, and at times it appeared as if the New Zealanders were playing a percentage game where they waited for a possible mistake from the defense that could lead to pressure that they could exploit.
This approach is actually used by many teams around the world on occasion, but if it is the principle focus of your game plan against a team consisting of technically proficient players you are in serious trouble.
The game, in the end, was won easily by the Mexicans with goals from Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela.
The Arsenal man displayed the strength and power he has gained from his time in England in shrugging off a New Zealand defender, but also the finesse and technical ability that is a staple in the Mexican game in beating another two players and the keeper to score.
The big problem for New Zealand is the reaction that has come out of the match in the aftermath. Much has been said about the "nuggety" performances and the "against the odds" effort, etc.
It has been postulated that New Zealand has a lot of positives to take out of the match, when in fact the match showed that technically New Zealand is decades behind the top sides of the world, and needs to stop making excuses and start to make serious changes to mindsets and attitudes that exist in the country's football culture.
It is no good to play the percentage game in international football that is so often seen on the pitches of New Zealand. That is, the game where it is played direct and at pace, relying on the dearth of technically gifted defensive units that succumb to pressure that enables more highly skilled teams to score goals because of defensive mistakes.
This type of play is destined to fail as soon as a side meets a team that has a polished and confident defensive unit, as was the case when New Zealand played Mexico.
But the disturbing thing for New Zealand is that the culture of New Zealand football is still caught in the idea's of 1960's Britain, where many of the coaches who have formulated the modern game in New Zealand hail from.
The kick and rush idea has been exposed as not only ugly to watch, but also not effective against teams who play a possession game coupled with highly developed technique.
New Zealand does have time before the world cup to try to develop the continuity and effectiveness of its team for the group games. They could well put a side together that can give the sides they encounter a good game of football, but it will most likely not be much to watch.
The key to the future of New Zealand football is developing the culture of the game and bringing it level with the ideals of the top sides of the world.
Coaching techniques are being improved, and I have been lucky enough to witness first hand the newer methods that are being used with the younger players coming through at age group level in Hawkes Bay and other parts of the country.
The progression of ideas is the only way forward, and it will come with more time spent playing at the highest level of international competition.
Hopefully, when the tournament is over, New Zealand football will be better for the experience, and able to take tangible rewards in the form of new ideas and methodology throughout the game toward the betterment of New Zelands' football philosophy.
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