17 Jul 2020

Why are the world number ones bothering with the All Whites?

1:09 pm on 17 July 2020

Why would the world's top ranked football side Belgium bother playing the All Whites?

Belgium football team.

Belgium football team 2018 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Well the 122nd FIFA ranked side has an in.

The All Whites coach Danny Hay used to play alongside his Belgian counterpart Roberto Martinez when the pair were at English club Walsall 20 years ago.

New Zealand Football boss Andrew Pragnall says the All Whites stature on the international scene is much higher than their ranking would suggest.

New Zealand Football has confirmed it has provisional plans to take on The Red Devils in Brussels on October 9th.

The Belgian team is likely to include some of the world's top players who helped them to third place in the 2018 World Cup.

A friendly against Belgium would certainly rank alongside drawing with the 5th ranked Italians at the 2010 World Cup finals or taking on Brazil in the 1982 finals with the New Zealand men having never played the number one ranked side in the world before.

"We'd all acknowldge that our abilities are a lot higher than the rankings show and then I think the relationships help as well, so we played Ireland last year, a top quality side, and were very respectable on the field, so I think there's some awareness of that also."

Pragnell says the likes of Chris Wood, Winston Reid and Sarpreet Singh playing in Europe has helped New Zealand Football's profile.

Hay acknowledges how tough it'll be against a side containing some of the best players in the world.

So whether they play the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, de Bruyne, we know it's going to be a real challenge because they've got a huge amount of depth, they've got a world class coach and so it's going to be a real challenge for us."

Shane Smeltz scores for New Zealand.
New Zealand All Whites v Italy, Match 28, FIFA Football World Cup.

Shane Smeltz scoring against Italy 2010 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Hay will probably have to select a side from those New Zealand players based in Europe.

Former All Whites defender Ben Sigmund was a part of the 2010 World Cup squad that drew with Paraguay, Slovakia and Italy.

They played some big names then but Sigmund says the quality of the Belgian team at the moment is unreal.

"Players like Eden Hazard (ex Chelsea now Real Madrid), one of the top players in the world over the past few years. You've got Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), these guys would be in your World Eleven."

"The list goes on and on, their goalkeeper, they have a choice of about three world class goalkeepers.... their whole squad is just riddled with quality players."

However confirmation of the fixture is still some way off.

The All Whites were scheduled to play Oceania World Cup qualifying games in October, but they're likely to be shifted to 2021.

The obvious road block is Covid-19 and Andrew Pragnell says that is a major hurdle.

"We need to temper those expectations with the reality that it's all provisional on travel and health and safety requirements being met. We're really excited, we realise there's a chance this could be cancelled by either party. But in the Covid world you have to keep making plans and the key here was not missing out on a real opportunity."

Pragnell says all going well they'll try and organise a second game while in Europe.