All Whites greats have varied views on Fifa's World Cup expansion

New Zealand assistant coach Brian Turner juggles a ball at All Whites training in Polokwane during their 2010 Fifa World ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand assistant coach Brian Turner juggles a ball at All Whites training in Polokwane during their 2010 Fifa World Cup campaign in South Africa.

New Zealand football greats Steve Sumner, Brian Turner and Kevin Fallon are all passionate about seeing the All Whites at more World Cup finals - but they have different takes on Fifa's plan to expand the tournament.

World football's governing body voted on Tuesday night (NZ time) to increase the number of teams from 32 to 48 from 2026.

The new format will see the participants play off in 16 three-team groups with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout stage.

Steve Sumner in action against Saudi Arabia during a World Cup qualifier at Mt Smart Stadium in 1981.
JOHN SELKIRK/FAIRFAX NZ

Steve Sumner in action against Saudi Arabia during a World Cup qualifier at Mt Smart Stadium in 1981.

The expanded competition will almost certainly result in direct entry for the winner of the Oceania Football Confederation qualifying group. Currently, the Oceania champion has to win an inter-continental playoff series to make the World Cup finals - to make the 2018 finals, the Oceania winner has to beat the fifth-placed South American side over two legs.

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Sumner, who captained the All Whites at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, said on Tuesday that he would be "absolutely delighted" if the 48-team format was approved.
Ex All Whites coach Kevin Fallon watches the opening ceremony before the Fifa Under-20 Football World Cup match between ...
FIONA GOODALL/PHOTOTEK

Ex All Whites coach Kevin Fallon watches the opening ceremony before the Fifa Under-20 Football World Cup match between New Zealand and Ukraine at QBE Stadium.

"It would help our game grow here," he said on the 35th anniversary of the All Whites' playoff win over China in Singapore which earned them a place at the 1982 finals after a record 15 qualifying matches.

Sumner said New Zealand had "a lot of great players who never had the chance" to play in a World Cup finals with only the 1982 and 2010 squads qualifying. It meant players such as "Michael McGarry and many others" were not as well known as they deserved to be.

"It would be fantastic if it did come off and we did get automatic entry out of our region."

Sumner believed it would be wonderful to see more New Zealand footballers playing at the World Cup finals and "building some great memories, like we have".

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Turner, who played in the 1982 finals and was assistant-coach of the unbeaten 2010 All Whites team at the South Africa tournament, would also like to see more Kiwis share the experience, but he felt a move to 48 teams was a step too far.

"The quality of the competition will obviously lessen. It will give some lesser countries great opportunities, but at the end of the day, it will allow more minnows to get to the World Cup."

Turner said direct entry would be great for Oceania, but "is it the right thing for the game [worldwide]?"

It would mean New Zealand would qualify for the World Cup finals every four years, "cast in stone".

"No other team has that pathway to the World Cup. It's ideal for New Zealand, yes, but how can you measure that against the European teams who get caught in a group of death [in the qualifying stages]?"

Turner said smaller nations like New Zealand and the Ivory Coast had still qualified for the World Cup and proved they deserved their place amid "the glitz and glamour".

The World Cup finals began in 1930 with 16 teams before numbers were expanded to 24 in 1982. The tournament was extended to 32 teams in 1998.

Turner said increasing to 48 would be "sending the wrong signals".

He believes the Oceania winner should have to play an inter-continental playoff series but felt it should be against the fifth-placed Asian team as it was for the 2010 World Cup when the All Whites beat Bahrain to book their berth in South Africa.

"We have got a chance against the Asian group representative, but not so much against South America," said Turner, who rates the All Whites' 1-1 draw with world champions Italy in 2010 as the highlight of his football career.

Turner was so delighted when Shane Smeltz fired New Zealand into a 1-0 lead he took a photograph of the scoreboard at Nelspruit.

Fallon - assistant-coach of the 1982 and father of Rory Fallon, the 2010 team striker - believes Oceania should have direct entry to the World Cup finals within the existing 32-team format.

"Like a lot of people, I think it's totally unnecessary. I think they've got enough teams in there now.

"Going from 32 to 48 does nothing for me. You might as well have the whole world there.

"That's what the qualifying rounds are for."

He said having direct entry for Oceania would "help the game in this part of the world".

"The worst part of being here [in the South Pacific] is we are that far away from the [football] hub."

Fallon felt the All Whites' 1-1 draw with Italy in 2010 was "an unbelievable result against the world champions" and proved Oceania deserved to have a direct qualifier.

"New Zealand won't get embarrassed any more [on the international stage]."

 - Stuff

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