New Zealand: Excitement ahead of rebranded ASB Premiership
Having signed a new five-year deal with ASB Bank, the former New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) has been rebranded into the ASB Premiership starting from the 2010-11 season and it hails a new enthusiasm for the game in this part of the world which saw its national team, the All Whites, enjoy unprecedented success in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Now the football authorities in New Zealand hope for the game to grow and standards to increase in what is traditionally a rugby union stronghold and, for that to happen, small but significant steps such as the new sponsorship deal are crucial to the league’s development. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks ahead to the new season.
Auckland City and Waitakere United have held a duopoly of the domestic honours since the league’s inception in 2004-05 with the former winning the championship play-offs four times and the latter winning twice including last season’s title, winning 3-1 against surprise finalists Canterbury United. New Zealand’s equivalent of the Old Firm remain the teams to beat even if they have to balance out their domestic campaign with the oncoming “O-League” – Oceania Champions League – a competition which both teams have won twice in the last five years although neither was victorious last season. Canterbury United, largely unchanged from last season, will fancy their chances of upsetting the apple cart and will want to reach another Grand Final and make it third time lucky following defeats in 2005-06 and 2009-10. Team Wellington are another team who have title ambitions having finished in third place in the 2009-10 regular season before losing in the play-offs to eventual champions Waitakere United.
Amongst the other four teams Otago United seemingly have the best chance of breaking into the top four finishing fifth in the 2009-10 regular season and only losing out on a play-off place by virtue of an inferior goal difference to eventual finalists Canterbury United. The likes of Hawke’s Bay United and Youngheart Manawatu will be fighting it out to avoid the bottom place in the eight team league along with last season’s wooden spoonists Waikato FC who don’t look ready just yet to emulate last season’s Canterbury United side who went from worst to very nearly first. However there is a new rule in the new-look ASB Premiership which forces clubs to have five under-20 players in their squads with an obligation for three of those players to be amongst the playing staff on each matchday so this may allow a little more unpredictability in the championship.
Champions Waitakere United begin their campaign with a home tie this weekend against Team Wellington on Sunday, twenty-four hours after Auckland City opens the season with an away trip to Waikato FC. The first meeting between the Big Two will happen on November 7th when Auckland City host Waitakere United for their first home game of the domestic season. The three other games on that weekend see Otago United, Team Wellington and Youngheart Manawatu welcoming Waikato FC, Canterbury United and Hawke’s Bay United respectively. Can any of those six teams finally topple the top two and claim a first ever title? Keep in touch with Stoppage Time at all of the crucial points of the new season.