New Zealand won’t just be playing for their home country when they step onto the field in Doha for their FIFA World Cup™ intercontinental play-off against Costa Rica next month.

The team is acutely aware that they are representing the entire Oceania region, after earning that right by winning the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Oceania Qualifiers in March, as well as what sort of lift to the region a victory will bring.

“I think there’s been some real hardship over recent years [in the Pacific], not just Covid-driven but natural disasters as well that have hit hard,” New Zealand head coach Danny Hay said.

“We’re a multi-cultural team, so we’re flying the flag for the region, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Hay’s sentiments were echoed by NZ midfielder Clayton Lewis, who said the kinship between the OFC nations is something he is very proud of.

“I know a lot of players from across the island nations, they are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I’ve played with a couple – Micah Lea’alafa from the (Solomon Islands) and Brian Kaltak from Vanuatu. I just think they’re top guys…it’s a massive privilege to represent Oceania and I know we’re going to do everyone proud.”

The 25-year-old had a special message for supporters in the Pacific, especially those affected by the tsunami in Tonga and others still dealing with ongoing Covid lockdowns.

“Not only do we do it for New Zealand, but we do it for all the island nations as well. We’re part of one big family, really,” Lewis said.

“To those who have been affected by the tsunami and Covid, just know that everyone in New Zealand is with you and wants to support.”

While the NZ team prepares for its must-win match against a powerful Costa Rican side, aid efforts on the ground in Tonga are continuing.

Just Play Emergency Response is an award-winning sport for development programme designed by the Oceania Football Confederation with the support of UNICEF and OFC Member Associations.

The programme encourages children to learn through play and how to keep themselves and their families safe following a natural disaster.

Just Play pairs messages on health and wellness, gender equality, social inclusion, and child protection with messages on coping and recovering from emergencies, food safety, nutrition, handwashing and post-emergency safety and security.

It is delivered alongside national partners ensuring an integrated approach to response efforts.

OFC Head of Social Responsibility Michael Armstrong said the programme aims to reach over 5,000 children in Tonga by December 2022.

“OFC is working to integrate sustainable development activity into all levels of football to leave a lasting legacy across the whole Pacific. Great performances from our top teams in the region grow our platform and opportunity for impact,” Armstrong said. 

“New Zealand is a leader both on and off the pitch. We wish the All Whites all the best for the upcoming match and are excited to continue working with New Zealand Football and their Legacy Starts Now initiative, to ensure an enduring legacy across our entire region from the hosting of the Women’s World Cup next year.”