Opinion: Guaranteed ticket to World Cup no cause for celebration

All Whites
All Whites celebrating after the victory over Bahrain to send them through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals (Photosport image)

From 2026, there's no reason New Zealand can't qualify for every single FIFA World Cup.

Cause for celebration, right? Not really.

Last night's FIFA vote confirmed that it's showpiece tournament, one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, would expand from 32 to 48 teams.

That all but certainly means Oceania will be guaranteed a full spot in the World Cup qualification process. To shorten that, the likes of Tahiti, New Caledonia and Fiji will be the only teams standing in the way of the All Whites going to every single World Cup.

This does not excite me though. Half of the thrill of a Football World Cup is the journey to get there. Major European nations bomb out in the qualifying process, while the All Whites have enjoyed memorable matches on the way to qualifying for the 1982 and 2010 Cups.

In fact, today's news marks the end of nights like the famous 1-0 win over Bahrain in Wellington.

I may be alone in this sentiment, but looking back, that night trumped any of the results at the World Cup itself. It was pure euphoria that I had and have not witnessed at a sporting fixture since. 

All Whites
All Whites' bench storms the field after the final whistle (Photosport image)

Can you envisage the same euphoria after the All Whites thrash Fiji 4-0 to book their spot at wherever FIFA decides to host the 2026 tournament?

There's no way it'll be the same. The Bahrain nights will be a thing of the past. Something to tell the grandchildren, but something the grandchildren will never experience.

The World Cup Finals are exactly that, they are the finals.

It's a culmination of a lengthy process where the very best in the world are whittled down to a champion.

This is what people who were outraged at the All Whites winning Halberg awards after 2010 did not understand, and probably still will not understand the disappointment at today's news.

Now, we face a tournament that will feature a Group P, and could even involve penalty shootouts to determine group matches.

Expansion will cheapen the greatest sporting tournament on Earth while greatly enriching its officials. But that is no surprise in the modern world of football. 

Too bad it seems big now supersedes great when it comes to the World Cup.