Mark Mitchell

All Whites to play Jamaica

NEW Zealand Football has confirmed the All Whites' first match of the year is shaping up to be a clash against Jamaica in Auckland on February 29.

The fixture still requires formal acceptance from the Jamaica Football Federation and New Zealand Football board approval but comments from JFF President Captain Horace Burrell overnight suggest they are keen to play the game.

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It would be a good fixture for the All Whites, although it will present difficulties for overseas-based players because of the short window, as they eye qualification for the 2014 World Cup.

With the Oceania winners due to meet the fourth-ranked team from Concacaf (North and Central America) in a playoff for a place in Brazil, New Zealand could well come up against Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz are ranked 52nd in the world and fifth in Concacaf, one spot below Honduras who drew with New Zealand in a friendly following the 2010 World Cup.

The All Whites are presently ranked 118 but a spot around 70 is more accurate. They played only three internationals last year - a 1-1 draw with China in Wuhan and 3-0 defeats to both Mexico and Australia away - which has seen their ranking slide.

NZF have been in discussions with a number of countries, including playing Canada in London, and scrambled this morning to see whether anything had been confirmed against Jamaica after Captain Burrell told the Jamaica Observer newspaper a game against New Zealand would be ideal for their World Cup preparations.

The Fifa website also listed the match on their fixtures list.

"A home test against a top 50 football nation from the CONCACAF region should whet the appetite of the sporting public especially given what may lie ahead with FIFA World Cup qualification in 2013," New Zealand Football Chief Executive Grant McKavanagh said.

"We've talked before about bring the national team home more often and while we haven't tended to do it in these one-day windows due to cost and the tyranny of distance, this would be us putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak, and backing football fans to show us that it will work."

"We know there's an appetite for live football - the Phoenix have been the latest to prove that in Auckland recently - and it will be a big coup if we can get this over the line."

A venue for the proposed match has not been decided yet, although McKavanagh confirmed the match would be in Auckland due to the timeframe involved in getting players in from all over the world. Venue and ticketing details will be announced if and when the game is finalised.

The All Whites and Jamaica previously clashed in 2000, with the Reggae Boyz winning the encounter 2-1.

Home fixtures, while attractive to fans here, are risky ventures financially for NZF and the short international window means it will be a difficult test for the players.

But they need to get active again after a period of inactivity as they build towards the World Cup qualifying campaign in the Oceania Nations Cup in June. The first phase of qualifying is scheduled to take place in Fiji but could be moved elsewhere because of political difficulties.