By: Jason Pine | Friday, October 19, 2012 1:51 PM
There’s only one thing the All Whites can do about the looming yellow card issue which threatens to upset their run to the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil.
Put it out of their minds.
In case you’ve missed it, no fewer than nine New Zealand players have picked up a yellow card in World Cup qualifiers up to this point. If you get two yellows, you automatically miss the next game and this includes the final hurdle on the road to Rio 2014, next November’s home and away inter-continental playoff against the fourth-best CONCACAF team.
Ivan Vicelich, Tommy Smith, Chris Killen, Jeremy Brockie, Tony Lochhead, Chris Wood, Shane Smeltz, Winston Reid and Michael McGlinchey are the players walking the suspension tightrope. There’s been a suggestion that some or all of these players should look to deliberately pick up bookings in the next match against New Caledonia in March, with the intent of then serving their one-match ban in what is likely to be a dead rubber against the Solomon Islands four days later. That would then leave their slates clean for the home and away inter-continental playoff.
But looking for opportunities to get booked is an extremely dangerous game to play, especially in such a crucial match. What if the referee issues a red card instead of a yellow one? That player would then miss the next game (and maybe more), but would still be sitting on their yellow card.
Furthermore, FIFA has made it clear that any player found guilty of intentionally getting booked to wipe their slate will receive a two-match ban which completely defeats the purpose of deliberately seeking a booking.
But the bottom line is that New Zealand simply must approach the next match against New Caledonia with only one thing in mind – to win the match and secure their place in the inter-continental playoff. Once they start thinking about yellow cards, possible bans or indeed any other peripheral issues, attention is taken away from what has to be their core focus: victory.
New Caledonia are just three points behind and still mathematically in the hunt. If they beat the All Whites, the unthinkable might happen and the New Zealand could miss out. Nothing can be allowed to distract the team from doing what is required to beat New Caledonia. Once that’s achieved and the match against the Solomon Islands becomes a dead rubber, players who are on yellows can then be rested to ensure they’re available for the away match against CONCACAF’s fourth-best later in 2013. But everything in the lead-up to the clash with New Caledonia has to be on winning, and only that.
A deeper issue here is the process by which we’ve found ourselves in this yellow card situation in the first place. Here’s the background:
Oceania World Cup qualifying has taken place over three stages. The first stage saw the region’s minnows – Samoa, Tonga, America Samoa and the Cook Islands – playing each other once for a spot in the second stage. Samoa won that and joined Tahiti, Vanuatu, Fiji, PNG, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and New Zealand in stage two, which also doubled as the OFC Nations Cup. Stage three is the current four-team group, made up of the top four from the OFC Nations Cup – namely, Tahiti, the Solomons, New Caledonia and New Zealand.
Every confederation in the world was given the chance to wipe their yellow card slate clean once during its World Cup qualifying process. Logic would suggest a sensible time to do this would have been after the OFC Nations Cup (stage two). Instead, the OFC decided to wipe the slate clean after stage one, before seven of the eight teams involved in stage two had even taken the field!
This is ludicrous. Why would the cut be made before seven of the eight teams (and all four of the nations still left in stage three) had even played a match? The only team that benefitted were Samoa who had their yellow cards from stage one nullified, and then proceeded to lose all three of their games in stage two and drop out of the running.
There were only three games for each side in stage one, but the eventual participant in the inter-continental playoff will play 13 matches. It seems absurd that a side would have to negotiate 13 games (the equivalent of half a regular A-League season) walking a yellow card tightrope. As mentioned above, a far more logical time to clean the slate would have been after the five matches of the OFC Nations Cup, so the four remaining sides could have started stage three unencumbered by their accumulated bookings.
I’m hearing the decision to wipe the slate after stage one was politically motivated and done as a favour to the Samoan Football Federation which might be re-paid later when backing was needed for something else. Remember Samoa were the only ones to benefit from this ruling, and as it happened they were soundly beaten at the OFC Nations Cup anyway. It’s clearly a ridiculous decision which could yet have significant repercussions as we potentially approach the most important 180 minutes of football New Zealand has played since late 2009.
Before we even get there though, victory must be secured over New Caledonia in March, and to do that, this yellow card conundrum must be completely removed from Ricki Herbert and the All Whites’ minds.
Forget the yellows and get the points. There can’t be any other approach.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @pineyzb