The Difference a Decade Can Make
Ten years ago Brazil were starting their defence of the World Cup in Germany. Five time World Champions, they were regarded as tournament favourites to retain world champion status.
Iceland, on the other hand, was reflecting on a World Cup qualifying campaign that had resulted in eight defeats out of ten matches. With a win and draw against Malta the only successful results. It had conceded 27 goals in those ten matches.
Ten years on, the footballing world is quite different for both nations.
With a population of just 330,000 people Iceland has approximately the same number of people as Auckland’s North Shore.
However, due to facility development, expert coaching, and a collective passion for football the country has built a talented national team.
Ten years after that woeful World Cup qualifying campaign, Iceland’s national team made it to Euro 2016, twice beating the Netherlands on the way.
In its opening group game of Euro 2016 this week Iceland secured a battling 1-1 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Iceland has every chance of making it into the tournament Round of 16. Given the four best third placed teams across the six groups progress from group play, a win against either Austria or Hungary should be enough to ensure progression.
Regardless, what Iceland has done is testament to the fact that anything is possible.
This is not a one-off achievement. Iceland has shown continual progression over the last decade and was only denied a place at the 2014 World Cup after a playoff defeat to Croatia.
The lesson for New Zealand is that you don’t have to be a big country to succeed in football. In fact, being small is sometimes better in that the best young players can be easier to discover and therefore channeled to receive the best coaching.
Brazil, on the other hand, must be wondering where it has all gone wrong.
The most successful ever World Cup winning nation is going through a period of profoundly poor results.
The 7-1 semi-final capitulation to Germany in the 2014 World Cup was viewed by some commentators at the time as a one off. However, the fact that Brazil lie sixth in the South American group for 2018 World Cup qualifying is deeper cause for concern. Brazil is not a dominant force any more in world football.
Given the fifth placed South American team play the top Oceania team in a playoff to qualifying, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Brazil could play New Zealand in Wellington late 2017.
Most recently, in the Copa América Centenario hosted in the USA, Brazil failed to score against either Peru or Ecuador in group matches and therefore failed to make it to the quarter final stage.
Corruption within the Brazilian Federation, injuries to key players and a defensive playing style have played a role in the deterioration of a proud footballing nation. But so too has the fact that the rest of the world has kept evolving and focused on developing young players.
The lesson for all countries is that anything is possible, be it good or bad. The one constant is change.
New Zealand’s Choice
New Zealand has a choice. Do we want to continue as Iceland could of in 2006 – as also-rans – or do we want to move the game forward and become a footballing nation?
For Top Flight Football Academy, there is only one answer and that is to emulate Iceland. Like New Zealand, Iceland is a small, volcanic island nation tucked away in a vast ocean. Surely if they can develop a nation of footballers, so can we.
It all starts with the coaching that our young footballers receive.
The focus must be on the ten-year goal and the opportunity of making our young talent the best that they can be.
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