NZ slips down world rankings
FOR a side who went undefeated in the 2010 World Cup, slotting in at 120 in the latest Fifa world rankings doesn't seem quite right.
But it's a symptom of New Zealand's inactivity since those heady days in South Africa, when they drew with Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay after beating Serbia (then ranked 15th in the world) in a World Cup warmup. The All Whites were ranked 54 soon after the World Cup but have been on a constant slide since.
They played only three friendly matches last year (a 1-1 draw with China and 3-0 defeats to both Mexico and Australia) but should jump up the rankings this year after June's first stage of World Cup qualifiers _ more ranking points are at stake in meaningful matches.
Their current ranking places them alongside Namibia but behind the likes of the Faroe Islands (118), St Kitts and Nevis (117) and only 31 places above Samoa.
The folly of the ranking system is illustrated by the fact Samoa are the second-ranked team in Oceania - which comes on the back of their World Cup qualifying defeats of the Cooks Islands and American Samoa - ahead of the likes of Fiji, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
The All Whites' fluctuating fortunes are reflected in the fact they have been as high as 47 in 2002 and as low as 156 in 2007 - 208 nations make up the rankings.
They take on Jamaica at Mt Smart Stadium on February 29. The Reggae Boyz have climbed to 50th in the latest rankings but New Zealand will fancy their chances, especially as coach Ricki Herbert has selected a strong side.
A win would be only the fourth against a top-50 side since the rankings came into effect in 1993.
On top of the 1-0 win over Serbia, the All Whites have also twice beaten Australia when they were ranked in the top 50 (1998 and 2002).
They also beat Mexico 4-0 in 1980 and won important matches over Australia, Saudi Arabia and China on the road to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, before the rankings system was introduced.
The more recent win over Bahrain (ranked 61 at the time) to qualify for the World Cup, or the draws against Italy (5), Slovakia (34) and Paraguay (31) at the World Cup finals will ultimately be remembered as more significant, but a win over Jamaica would nonetheless be a timely ranking fillip for the All Whites.
"A victory over any quality nation is motivation enough for the team I'm sure,'' New Zealand Football chief executive Grant McKavanagh said.
"And a team like Jamaica who have been consistently in and around that top 50 for the last four or five years and can call on some exciting players shows why they are not to be taken lightly on February 29.
"We see ourselves fitting in that 50 to 70 bracket [in the rankings] and a win would kickstart our own move back up the charts. We have up to 13 World Cup qualifiers, which carry more weighting than standard matches, forming the basis of a sustained programme of internationals over the next two years.''
Jamaica's latest rise saw them leapfrog Honduras to be the fourth-ranked nation in Concacaf, adding more significance to next week's match.
The winner of Oceania's qualification zone will meet the fourth-ranked team from Concacaf in a two-legged intercontinental playoff in November 2013 to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.