All Whites coach Anthony Hudson believes it is time for his team to drop the underdog tag as they look to fulfil their potential on the world stage in 2017.
The national coach, who led the team who OFC Nations Cup last June and claimed four points in Stage Three of the OFC FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in November against New Caledonia, feels like they need to strengthen their mind-set and believe they can beat world-class opposition.
“We need to believe that we can not only compete with the biggest teams in the world we can also beat them,” said Hudson. “For too long we have had an underdog mentality and we are at the stage now where it is holding us back. It is now all about us having higher expectations of ourselves.”
Hudson is preparing his team to face Fiji home and away in March in the next step of the team FIFA World Cup qualifying, but in the back of his mind is the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in June where they will face hosts Russia, Mexico and Portugal. He has stated that his team is heading to the ‘Tournament of Champions’ to cause an upset. He was clear that statement is not hype.
“It’s a statement of intent,” he said. “We are going into March with the strongest squad we have ever had. We have got our best players available. We have depth. We have a real good mix of youth and experience. There is competition for places. This is the healthiest position we have been in.”
Hudson said his team comes into 2017 off the back of some significant performances and have developed significantly in the past two and a half years in his time. He cited performances against South Korea and Oman as key milestones along the way.
An under-strength squad at the OFC Nations Cup won the tournament in difficult conditions and the tour of the USA last October they drew 1-1 with USA and lost 2-1 to Mexico to give All Whites fans a glimpse of what they can do against big teams. In the past two years – including the New Zealand Under 23s – the All Whites have lost only one game out of 15. They have scored 26 goals and only conceded five.
“There is a lot of reason right now for us to be backing ourselves and have belief,” said Hudson.
He is pleased with the preparation for the biggest year of his coaching career. Hudson has a settled squad and will only add players in 2017 who improve his squad. The team has a good programme confirmed with international friendlies against Northern Ireland and Belarus leading into the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Hudson said the squad is in a good place and playing for each other. He wants to see his team physically fitter but the biggest change is strengthening their mind-set.
“Part of that underdog mentality is possibly down to us being very humble and this is not about being arrogant at all but it is about us believing and having higher expectations,” he said. “In the past the underdog tag has probably helped us at times – when we went to South Korea or Oman – where we were missing our top players and that mentality gave us fight and resilience. But where we are now we are a different team and this underdog mind-set is definitely holding us back.”
Hudson said the underdog tag is like a mediocre feedback loop where there is very little expectation and it can feel like it is enough to just to play well and compete.
“We now have to be comfortable with higher expectations. We need to believe that we have the top players, a good programme, and if we have done everything correctly we can turn up and expect to not just to play well but we can expect to win.”
All Whites Calendar in 2017
OFC Stage Three Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
25 March Fiji v All Whites, Churchill Park, Lautoka
28 March All Whites v Fiji, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
All Whites fixtures pre-FIFA Confederations Cup
2 June v Northern Ireland in Belfast, Northern Ireland
7 June v Club side (closed game) in Dublin, Republic of Ireland
12 June v Belarus in Minsk, Belarus
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw
17 June 6pm (3am 18 June NZT) v Russia, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
21 June 9pm (6am 22 June NZT) v Mexico Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
24 June 6pm (3am 25 June NZT) v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg