Monday 13 June 2022, 05:00

All Whites duo discuss diversity and World Cup dreams

  • New Zealand’s Bill Tuiloma and Logan Rogerson speak to FIFA

  • Both are confident of upsetting the odds in the All Whites’ intercontinental play-off

  • They also discuss changing perceptions about football in their respective communities

The identity of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™’s only unbeaten team has become a classic piece of tournament trivia.

It is also a source of enduring pride in New Zealand that the All Whites, rather than Spain’s title-winning golden generation, provide the answer to that particular quiz question.

But while this unlikely statistic reflects how admirably the Kiwis competed in South Africa, 12 years have since passed without another appearance on the global stage. Fans and players also need no reminding that six editions and almost three decades had elapsed between New Zealand’s only previous World Cup and that undefeated adventure in 2010.

They are clear too that, in a nation in which football needs to battle and scrap for every column inch, there is no overstating the importance of a return to the global stage.

“Qualifying would be massive for football back home,” winger Logan Rogerson told FIFA. “I still remember the hype it generated, and what it did for the game, when the All Whites went to South Africa in 2010. It inspired young Kiwis to want to play the game, and we want to have that same impact now.

“I still remember waking up in the middle of the night to watch that 2010 World Cup with my dad. They’re great memories for me, and it’s crazy to think that I could be part of a team that gets us back there.”

Logan Rogerson (17) of New Zealand on the ball.

Taking on the Ticos

Just one more win is all New Zealand need to realise this elusive dream. Yet this seemingly straightforward equation belies a harsh reality that almost no-one is tipping them to secure that all-important victory.

Lopsided bookies’ odds for tomorrow’s intercontinental play-off reflect the All Whites’ opponents’ superior recent pedigree, with Costa Rica having qualified for all but one of the last five World Cups. But if anyone expects Danny Hay’s players to embrace this outsiders tag, manage expectations and downplay their chances, they should think again.

“We’re feeling very confident,” said defender Bill Tuiloma, scorer of two goals in the 5-0 win over the Solomon Islands that secured New Zealand’s play-off spot. “We really believe we can pull this off and book our ticket to the World Cup.

“It’s a great moment for us and I can see in training that everyone is totally focused and putting in the work that we need. We really are feeling good about this match.”

Andre Carrillo and Bill Tuiloma during the friendly match between Peru and New Zeland, played at the RCDE Stadium, in Barcelona, on 05th June 2022. (Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“We’re going to give Costa Rica a really good game,” agreed Rogerson. “We’ve had a lot of time together to get our playing style and identity sorted, and it should be down to a tee by the time Tuesday rolls around.

“There’s also a lot of talent in this group and, whereas a lot of New Zealand teams in the past didn’t have many players playing in Europe, pretty much our whole squad are now playing at a good professional level.”

Impressive ambassadors

Overseas experience is not the only area of difference between New Zealand’s Class of 22 and previous generations. This is also a squad that offers a far better representation the country’s melting pot of cultures, and which reflects their federation’s determination to shed football’s ‘All White’ image.

For Rogerson, a Māori, and Tuiloma, who is of Samoan descent, this visual representation of diversity and inclusivity is not inconsequential. Both view it as essential, in fact, to changing historic perceptions about the beautiful game within their communities.

“When I was playing football as a kid, everyone in my neighbourhood always asked me, ‘What are you doing? Your dad played rugby and you should be playing it too,’” recalled Rogerson.

“I actually had to leave football to live with my grandparents because I wanted to play football because, where I grew up, rugby was the only option.

“Fortunately, times have moved on and it’s definitely become easier for Māoris to play football these days. It’s been good to see that changing, and hopefully seeing more players from Māori and Pacific island background in the squad inspires kids from those cultures to dream of playing for the All Whites.

“It’s easier for those kids to relate to the likes of Bill and myself because we come from the same backgrounds. Personally, I come from a small Māori town where it’s very easy to go down the wrong path. It’s important that kids from those places have people they can look up to and help them aim high in life. That’s why [having a more diverse squad] makes a difference.”

Bill Tuiloma of New Zealand is consoled by family after losing the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 Round of 16 match between Portugal and New Zealand.

Tuiloma, too, takes great pride in being seen as a role model for his community - and his sport.

“I get messages from people of Pacific island background, telling me their kids are playing football and that they want to be just like me,” said the Portland Timers defender. “That’s so great to hear because inspiring these kids is definitely something we’re out to do.”

By ascending to their national team and thriving overseas, these All Whites stars have already set an exceptional example.

If they can end their country’s 12-year wait tomorrow and make a little World Cup history of their own, even grander dreams are sure to be stirred in New Zealand’s next generation.