Soccer in New Zealand: What’s The Story

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NZ Soccer may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of soccer (most people think of England, Brazil, or Argentina to name a few), but the sport has a rich history in our nation.

From its humble beginnings to co-hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, soccer is quickly becoming an integral part of New Zealand’s sporting landscape.

Keep reading to explore the story of New Zealand soccer as we delve into the past, present, and future of this promising Kiwi sport.

The History of New Zealand Football

Over a century ago, in July 1904, the first international football match was played on Kiwi soil at Dunedin’s Old Caledonian Grounds against New South Wales. Although it ended in defeat for our men’s national team, named the All Whites, it was the start of a rich history of football in New Zealand.

The All Whites had their debut official international matches against Australia in 1922 and Canada in 1927. By the late 1960s, New Zealand football had seen a surge of growth and development, marked by the founding of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) in 1966.

Our men’s national team played their first game at the OFC in 1973 and would go on to play ten total games in the tournament’s history. This was also the time when the women’s soccer team transitioned from social games to professional leagues in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

In 1975, our women’s football national team, the Football Ferns (formerly known as SWANZ), won the Asian Cup and participated in the first World Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan in 1981, where they finished second.

During the 1990s, US college development teams impacted New Zealand soccer, leading to over 24 Kiwi players playing for NCAA Division I men’s programs in the US. After Australia left the OFC in 2006, New Zealand had a greater opportunity to succeed in football. The All Whites’ FIFA world ranking dropped to 161 because not enough international matches were played.

In 2017, our men’s team reached their highest ranking of 88th after qualifying for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. While our team did not perform well in the tournament, we won the OFC final against the Solomon Islands and proceeded to the inter-continental play-off qualifier against Peru, but unfortunately lost 2-0 and were eliminated from the competition.

Highlights of New Zealand Soccer

Several significant highlights have promoted New Zealand soccer in our country, including:

  • Five-time OFC champions: Our men’s national team has won the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) five times, in 1973, 1998, 2002, 2008, and 2016. This makes them the most successful national team in the competition’s history with five golds, two silvers, and three bronzes.
  • Men’s biggest win: 13-0 victory against Fiji in Auckland in August 1981.
  • Women’s biggest win: In October 1998, New Zealand bet Samoa with a score of 21-0.

Has New Zealand Ever Qualified for the World Cup?

Yes, our men’s team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup on two occasions. Their first appearance came in 1982, followed by 2010. Our women’s national team has appeared in six FIFA World Cups: 1991, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023 (upcoming).

In 2007, our women’s team made history by becoming the first New Zealand team, male or female, to reach the knockout stages of a FIFA World Cup, despite a 2-0 loss to Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Who is New Zealand Football’s Top Scorer?

Chris Wood holds the title of the top scorer on our men’s national team with 33 goals. Amber Hearn has scored a total of 54 goals and holds the title of the top scorer on our women’s national team.

nz soccer sheep

New Zealand Soccer Culture

Although rugby remains our dominant sport, soccer is gaining popularity in New Zealand with a growing and dedicated following. New Zealand soccer is ranked as the fourth most popular sport, with the capacity to fill a stadium.

People of different ages and ethnicities are increasingly attracted to the sport, especially sports betting. The New Zealand Men’s National League, founded in 2021, consists of ten teams. Four are from the Northern League, three from the Central League, and two from the Southern League.

The soccer club Wellington Phoenix Reserves are automatically given a spot. Regional leagues run from March to September, followed by a championship phase and grand final. Two clubs from the league qualify each season for the OFC Champions League.

Our national soccer teams used to be filled with British migrants, but things are changing. As players develop their skills on home soil, the links are growing and our teams are becoming more Kiwi. And we’re definitely getting into the soccer spirit: over 1.2 million of us tuned in to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia; that’s almost 30% of Kiwis!

The main supporters of the national men’s team are known as the “White Noise”, while die-hard Wellington Phoenix fans brand themselves as “Yellow Fever” whenever teams play off in the capital.

Soccer is not as popular in New Zealand due to our national team’s low performance; they are currently ranked 105th in the 2022 FIFA rankings. On the other hand, the women’s national team is currently ranked 24th in the rankings.

Where Next for New Zealand Football?

New Zealand football has had its fair share of successes and challenges over the years. On the one hand, our women’s football team has continued to perform well on the international stage, qualifying for multiple Women’s World Cups and winning several OFC Women’s Nations Cups.

They have also been active in promoting gender equality and diversity in the game on an international and club level. This suggests that New Zealand football is moving in a positive direction when it comes to women’s competition.

On the other hand, while the game remains among the top six sports in New Zealand, it has not reached the heights of rugby or cricket in terms of popularity or funding. The lack of funding has also led to challenges in developing quality playing fields, particularly on Auckland’s North Shore.

Recent investments by the New Zealand government, such as putting the pen to paper to sign a $19 million investment in 30 of the 32 facilities earmarked for soccer tournaments, suggest that there is potential for growth in the sport.

The future of New Zealand soccer is uncertain, but there is hope. Despite challenges like funding and infrastructure, the upcoming co-hosting of the FIFA Women’s World Cup presents a promising opportunity. This historic moment for New Zealand football will be a major boost for the sport both domestically and internationally.

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Lincoln Trembley
Lincoln Trembley
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Lincoln is an expert in sports betting. With his skill and passion for trying our new brands in the iGaming industry, he frequently reviews sports betting sites and writes news about sports betting. Being a former sports trader, there’s not much he doesn’t know when it comes to sports betting.

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