Football fans around the world were glued to their televisions today to watch the draw for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
It was a mixed draw for me.
Scotland have a really tough road ahead of them if they are going to make it to Brazil. We do perform best when our backs are against the wall, but at this stage it looks like our best hope of qualification could be a new Balkans war breaking out.
Canada seem to have a great chance of making it to the final ‘hex’ stage and then everything is up for grabs.
I’m still living in the hope that I can head down to Rio to watch at least one of my teams taking part in the tournament, twenty years after I went to my first World Cup finals in the US.
It’s not just football fans around the globe that are getting excited at what lies ahead. The players are too and that includes Vancouver Whitecaps’ internationalists.
AFTN caught up with a few of our international stars after the LA Galaxy game and talked to them about something a bit cheerier than that game – the road to Brazil.
Kiwi defender Michael Boxall, and the Oceania qualification path, was the first stop on our world tour.
Boxall had represented New Zealand at youth, U-20, U-23 and A levels before this year, including at the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada and the 2008 Olympics in China.
March 25th saw him earn his first full international cap, playing the second half of a friendly against China, and he has earned two more international Caps in recent months.
Drawn against Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands and Fiji, we asked him how he saw New Zealand’s qualifying campaign progressing:
“It’s quite a way away. It’s not going to be until June before we actually start the qualifying. We’ve just got to take it one step at a time.
We know there’s not exactly powerhouses in our confederation, but there are still teams that you have to show up and beat. Take it one step at a time and see how everything unfolds after that.”
Last qualifying campaign, AFTN’s adopted Oceanic faves, New Caledonia, ran the Kiwis closest (although not really that close if truth be told). Does Michael see that being the same situation again?
“I don’t know too much about any of the island teams right now. We have to be confident in ourselves to be able to overcome anything that the island nations can throw at us and then move on past that”
Moving on past that is never easy for New Zealand. If/when they wrap up the Oceania champions spot, they will face a two legged playoff with the fourth place CONCACAF nation, a route which pleased Michael:
“I’m pretty glad that we managed to avoid the South Americans”
And how would he feel if that playoff game was against Canada?
“That would be pretty exciting and obviously not a very long flight if I had to play in Canada.”
We expressed our concerns that he has to face Papua New Guinea and joked with him about him being on the wrong end of cannibalism and not returning to MLS, before wishing him well in the forthcoming campaign.
With four African nations being represented by the current Caps squad, continental rivalries will soon start to come to the fore.
None more so than the potential group clash between Mustapha Jarju’s Gambian side and Nizar Khalfan’s Tanzania (assuming the latter take care of Chad in the preliminaries).
We asked Mustapha about this possible match-up and what he felt about the Gambia’s chances:
“(laughs) Yeah, my team-mate is going to be excited because he’s in a very good team.
For us, we are a very young team and I hope we get the chance to go and play against the very good teams. There is a chance.”
Before even thinking that far ahead, Mustapha is concentrating on his country’s African Nations Cup qualifying campaign, which is delicately balanced:
“We have two games coming up, one home and one away, and if we get good results, we qualify for the African Cup of Nations and then we can prepare for the qualification games for the World Cup.”
One African country which is familiar to fans around the world is Ghana and the Black Stars have qualified for the last two World Cup Finals. For U-20 internationalist Gershon Koffie, what does he hope for the Ghanaian qualifying campaign?
“I just want to keep working hard and hopefully get a call up.
It doesn’t matter what group we end up in, we just have to keep working hard and things will fall into place.”
I’m sure there will be a few Vancouverite’s taking more interest in African qualifiers over the next few years.
We wish all of our internationalists well. Maybe not so much Atiba Harris, whose St Kitts & Nevis side face Canada in the first round CONCACAF qualifying group, but to the rest, most certainly!
Yes it will mean that we’ll lose some of our top players for international duty but you can’t not want our Caps to go and try and get their countries World Cup glory.
And if we can see some of them grace the Brazilian pitches in front of a global audience in 2014, then all the better.