Demanding schedule: All Whites' tricky path to World Cup revealed

Demanding schedule: All Whites' tricky path to World Cup revealed

The All Whites will have to negotiate two World Cup qualifying games outside the official FIFA window next March.

The final piece of New Zealand’s potential World Cup pathway was confirmed on Monday night, with the format of the Oceania qualifying tournament in Qatar unveiled.

It will involve three round robin group games, before a semi final and final, spread across 15 days, not including preparation time.

In practical terms it means a commitment of almost three weeks, with the first group match scheduled for March 16th and the final set for March 30th.

The international window, when clubs are mandated to release players, runs from the March 21 to March 29.

OFC had applied to FIFA for an eight day extension, given the extraordinary circumstances that had been posed by Covid, which would have covered most of the tournament.

But the Herald understands their request was blocked by the European clubs, given the importance of that stage of the season, though FIFA has agreed to a one day extension, taking in the final on March 30.

It means the All Whites are unlikely to have many of their best players available for at least the first two matches. As an example, Chris Wood’s Burnley have games on the 12th and 19th March, while Sarpeet Singh’s German club provisionally have matches scheduled for the 13th and 20th March.

It’s believed New Zealand Football pushed for a straight knockout tournament (quarter final, semi final and final), which could have been accommodated within the existing window, but that was rejected by the majority of other Oceania nations, who were reluctant to make the long and expensive journey to Qatar with the prospect of only one match.

Demanding schedule: All Whites' tricky path to World Cup revealed

Niko Kirwan celebrates his goal with Chris Wood. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

The situation will create a headache for All Whites’ coach Danny Hay, who will be reliant on the goodwill of clubs to secure players for the first part of the tournament.

It could see a scenario where the All Whites use one set of personnel for the first two or three games, then have a new – or significantly changed – squad for the knockout stages, should they progress, as reinforcements arrive.

Such an unusual move will be possible under the tournament regulations. Instead of a strict 23-man squad, the Herald understands countries will be able to bring players in at any stage of the tournament, an amendment that has been agreed given the extraordinary circumstances of the event.

It will be a demanding schedule, with only two rest days between the last group games and the semi-final, then the same interval before the final.

OFC World Cup qualifying tournament, proposed schedule

Group A, match 1: March 16th
Group B, match 1: March 17th
Group A, match 2: March 20th
Group B, match 2: March 21st
Group A & B match 3: March 24th
Semi-finals: March 27th
Final: March 30th

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