(Reuters) – New Zealand will go into Oceania’s World Cup preliminaries as favourites, but coach Danny Hay is taking nothing for granted after the winners of the confederation’s qualifying tournament were drawn to face North American opposition on Friday.
The winners of the Oceania Football Confederation’s qualifiers, which are due to be played in Qatar in March, have been drawn to take on the country that finishes fourth in the Concacaf region in a one-off play-off in Qatar on June 14.
The New Zealand national team have claimed the continent’s playoff berth for the World Cup on every occasion since Australia left the Oceania confederation to join their Asian counterparts in 2006.
“Whichever team we get from Concacaf we know they will be strong as they have to be at this level,” Hay said.
“We still have work to do to qualify for the intercontinental playoff but as we have shown in the previous two international windows, we are making progress both on and off the pitch.
“It is now our job to continue to build on what we have done this year and take that momentum into 2022 as we look to qualify for Qatar.”
The OFC is the only confederation not to have an automatic berth at the finals and New Zealand last qualified for the World Cup in 2010 when the All Whites defeated Bahrain in a playoff to book their spot in South Africa.
They have since lost out to Mexico for a place at the 2014 finals in Brazil and Peru ahead of Russia 2018.
Canada lead the standings in the third round of Concacaf’s preliminaries with one point more than the United States, while Mexico are a further point adrift.
The Mexicans are level on 14 points with fourth-placed Panama. The first three finishers are guaranteed to go to the finals.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by William Mallard)