Where should World Cup playoff be held?

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 11:38 26/03/2013
Rory Fallon
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
AUCKLAND OR WELLINGTON?: With another World Cup playoff on the way where should the All Whites play the home leg?

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OPINION: Auckland or Wellington?

The two cities have developed the biggest inter-provincial rivalry in New Zealand football - more off the field as opposed to on it, specifically, which city is the current home of football?

Wellington's claims are on the back of the relative success of the Wellington Phoenix - the best performing professional club in New Zealand's history.

The rise of the Phoenix, the number of All Whites now based in the capital, and the growth of the Yellow Fever fan base essentially led to Wellington hosting THAT match, the All Whites-Bahrain World Cup qualifier in 2009 attended by 35,000 people.

Despite Auckland's failed professional ventures, the City of Sails still boasts the two best teams in domestic football - Waitakere United and Auckland City - as well the the player base.

New Zealand Football is based at North Harbour, and crowd figures for All Whites matches in recent years compare favourably with Wellington, if you take the Bahrain match out of the equation, as that would have sold out anywhere.

All of this leads to the next big debate during the coming weeks - which of these cities should host the home leg of the All Whites' intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from Concacaf (the Caribbean, North and Cental America) on November 20? 

This is the equivalent match to Bahrain 2009 - depending on the outcome in the away leg on November 14, the result will determine World Cup qualification for Brazil 2014.

The sentimental vote goes to Wellington, largely because of what happened four years ago when Rory Fallon's header handed the All Whites a 1-0 win and a trip to South Africa the following year.

In this line of business you don't feel emotion when you're working in a press box, but almost everyone I've spoken to who was in the crowd for that match agrees it was the most exhilarating sporting experience they've seen on New Zealand soil.

It's also been the home ground of the Phoenix All Whites and coach Ricki Herbert for a number of years.

They feel confident in those familiar surroundings, and would probably prefer Westpac Stadium over Eden Park, believing it to give them more of an advantage in terms of winning the tie.

And let's remember there are big financial stakes as well - NZF received $US10 million for qualifying four years ago - so much hinges on the result.

Auckland's asset is Eden Park's significantly bigger capacity and the ability to pack it out. The match will sell out in either city so NZF could potentially make an extra $500,000 from gate takings in Auckland - and they'll need all the dosh they can get after failure to qualify for the Confederations Cup and poor home crowds in the Oceania qualifiers.

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Yes, $500,000 is small fry compared to the reward of qualification, but playing in Wellington doesn't guarantee qualification anyway. On current form, and without Ryan Nelsen, the odds are stacked against Herbert's men.

Half a million dollars might be their lot, and it is not an insignificant sum. NZF must factor it into the equation.

Some would argue Westpac Stadium doesn't necessarily give New Zealand the best chance of winning the match, anyway.

Sure, the changing rooms might be more familar to the players, but an extra 20,000 New Zealand fans screaming for 90 minutes at the revamped Eden Park - a more football-friendly ground because of its dimensions - is surely as big an advantage as anything Westpac Stadium can offer the All Whites.

And a sellout comes with a $500,000 bonus.

It has to be Eden Park.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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