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Defiant Herbert not ready to give up on World Cup

New Zealand's national soccer coach Ricki Herbert looks on during a training session at Azteca stadium in Mexico City November 12, 2013. REU
New Zealand's national soccer coach Ricki Herbert looks on during a training session at Azteca stadium in Mexico City November 12, 2013. REU

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert has refused to countenance suggestions he is under more pressure than ever and his job could possibly end after his side's 2014 World Cup playoff against Mexico on Wednesday.

The CONCACAF heavyweights hold a 5-1 advantage following the first leg at the Azteca last week and if the All Whites are unable to win the return leg at Wellington Regional Stadium by at least 4-0 then Herbert's contract will end.

New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum has already said the organization would likely advertise the All Whites' job should their World Cup ambitions disappear on Wednesday.

"We'll see, that certainly hasn't been agreed yet, by any stretch," Herbert said when asked if he was viewing the match as his farewell.

Herbert has been in the spotlight over the past week following the Azteca loss and after a bizarre outburst following that game in which he criticized people for not giving him enough credit for taking the team to the 2010 World Cup finals.

The 52-year-old former central defender, however, said he had felt under greater pressure when the All Whites played Bahrain in the second leg of the 2010 World Cup qualifier at the same venue four years ago.

"I probably thought going into the home tie here against Bahrain there was a strong degree of pressure given the result we got away and potentially going back to a World Cup after 28 years," he added, referring to the 0-0 draw in the first tie in Manama.

"I'm going to enjoy tomorrow, if I'm honest. It's easy to be critical, as we've seen over the past week in different areas, and we cope with that, that's the roles we're in.

"But I think it's my responsibility to flow that calmness down to the players and give them the best opportunity, spirit-wise, to go out tomorrow to perform."

Herbert, who took charge of the side in 2005, said if people's expectations were now that the All Whites were in contention to qualify for every World Cup then a review of the team's preparations would probably need to be undertaken.

"It has been a tough task for eight years.

"The timing of the qualifications has always been a little difficult for us. We finished (Oceania qualifying) in March and you don't play again until the back end of the year," he said.

"The CONCACAF region have gone right up to the death. The Mexican league got closed and an opportunity got created for that group to prepare and play.

"If it is a meaningful outcome to qualify every four years then maybe it does need a more rigorous look at what we require to qualify.

"If we don't qualify this time then one in two (World Cups), is not a bad percentage given it took us 28 years to go back to a second one.

"Let's hope it's not another 28 years."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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