All Whites beat Australia on road to Spain

16 May 1981

New Zealand versus Australia, 1981 (Photosport)

The New Zealand football team’s 2–0 victory in Sydney was a defining moment in an epic qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup finals.

The team was the first from this country to make it to the finals of the sport’s premier international tournament. Local football fans had to wait 27 long years before another New Zealand team reached the finals by defeating Bahrain 1–0 in a two-legged qualification play-off in 2009. 

The ‘All Whites’, as the team became known, had begun their campaign with a 3–3 draw against Australia in Auckland on 25 April, followed by wins in Fiji and Indonesia and a draw in Taiwan. The rematch between the trans-Tasman rivals at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground would effectively decide which team progressed to the second qualifying round against the three Asian group winners. A first-half strike from Steve Wooddin and a thunderous long-range header from combative midfielder Grant Turner sealed a comprehensive win, and convinced many New Zealand football fans that we finally had a team capable of competing on the world stage.

The All Whites would have to play a further 10 games, culminating with a heart-stopping play-off victory over China in Singapore, to clinch qualification. At the World Cup finals in Spain in June 1982, the New Zealanders earned respect for their competitive displays, despite losing their three group matches against Scotland, the Soviet Union and Brazil.

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