New Zealand men’s national football team’s head coach Danny Hay is encouraging his team to “seize the moment” when they face Costa Rica with a place at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ on the line.
New Zealand, who won the Oceania Qualifiers in March, have the chance to become the OFC’s representative at November’s showpiece when they face the CONCACAF nation at 9pm on Tuesday, June 14 local time (Wednesday, June 15, 6am NZT). The winners will be the 32nd and final entrants to the competition, following Australia’s penalty shoot-out victory over Peru in the other Intercontinental Playoff.
The All Whites have assembled a squad packed with young talent for the match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, with 13 of the 26 named 25-years-old or younger.
But rather than suggest the opportunity has come too soon for this generation of New Zealand players, Hay believes a blend of youth and experience gives the All Whites a chance of success.
“The reality is none of us have a crystal ball,” Hay told a pre-match press conference this week.
“We don’t know what the future holds.
“We have got some really key experienced older players that sort of bookend this younger group. That’s why I think we have got a really good chance at doing something special.
“That is why we have to seize the moment now. This really is our moment and our time.”
One of those more experienced players is captain Winston Reid. The 33-year-old, alongside striker Chris Wood and defender Tommy Smith, is one of three players in the current squad who played the last time New Zealand qualified for a World Cup in 2010.
Reid, who has been passed fit for the crucial Costa Rica match, believes the team has a responsibility to represent their entire nation as he hopes for a return to international football’s biggest stage, 12 years on from South Africa.
“If I look back at the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to go to one World Cup,” said Reid.
“Now I am sort of coming to the back-end of my career, to go back to another one and be able to be one of the leaders would be a huge honour for me.”
Both men are however under no illusions as to the task at hand. Costa Rica have qualified for four of the previous five editions of the FIFA World Cup and have lost just one of their past nine fixtures.
Speaking to the media, Hay referenced the threat of three Costa Rica players in particular, Joel Campbell, Celso Borges and Keylor Navas, all of whom helped Los Ticos reach the quarter-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
However, facing a team placed 31 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings as the 101 ranked nation means the pressure is off New Zealand – something Hay cannot imagine for his Costa Rica counterpart Luis Fernando Suárez.
“The world’s media has basically written us off and given us no chance,” said Hay.
“I’m sleeping pretty well but I am not sure their coach will be because there is a huge amount of expectation on their shoulders.
“Ultimately it is 11 players v 11 players, and it is going to come down to small moments in the game that decide it.”