From Halifax Town to the World Cup finals

Speak to some Australian fans about the standard of the A-League, and they’ll insist it’s the equivalent of The Championship.

Never mind that in 2008's two-legged Asian Champions League final, J.League side Gamba Osaka smashed Adelaide United 5-0.

So total was Gamba’s dominance that the normally recalcitrant Yasuhito Endo candidly expressed his disappointment over his team’s failure to score more goals.

Maybe it’s because so many Championship-level players end up in Australia?

It’ll certainly be elbows akimbo the next time Andy Todd’s new side Perth Glory faces up to Lloyd Owusu and his Adelaide United crew, that’s for sure.

At any rate, I’m at a loss as to how this mysterious equation is formulated. But having seen a decent amount of Championship football on the tele, it’s certainly not a theory that The dirt from Down Under subscribes to!

Perhaps a more accurate marker is former Halifax Town striker Shane Smeltz.

He scored – and I’m relying on the infallibly accurate Wikipedia for this information – two goals in some 31 appearances while at The Shay, although admittedly that came on the back of a more successful spell with pyramid-climbing AFC Wimbledon.

The Shay: given no trouble by shot-shy Shane 

But when Smeltz arrived at A-League misfits Wellington Phoenix, he was suddenly a man transformed.

He scored nine goals from 19 appearances in his first season for the club from the Kiwi capital. In the following campaign he claimed the Golden Boot with 12 goals from 20 games.

That prompted mining magnate Clive Palmer to wave his chequebook, and Smeltz needed little encouragement to cross the Tasman and join cashed-up newcomers Gold Coast United.

Smeltz himself hails from an interesting background. Born in Göppingen, just south-west of Stuttgart, he grew up in the far warmer climes of the Gold Coast.

But disappointingly for Socceroos fans, the A-League goal machine plays his international football for New Zealand.

And it’s in the international arena that Smeltz could be about to make his greatest mark.

In mid-October, New Zealand face off against either Bahrain or Saudi Arabia for a place at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Should the Kiwis prevail, then New Zealand will jet off for just their second appearance at a World Cup finals.

All Whites' coach Ricki Herbert was a player the first and only time New Zealand reached the finals, when they ran out for the 1982 World Cup jamboree in Spain.

He knows Smeltz well, what with also being the long-time coach of Wellington Phoenix.

And with Smeltz currently in red-hot form for his club side, Herbert knows he’s got a proven match-winner on his hands.

His six goals in the opening three A-League games (including an impressive four-goal haul against the hapless North Queensland Fury) haven’t just caught the attention of the national team.

Gold Coast United have been pre-emptively forced to ward off potential suitors, claiming that Smeltz is not for sale “at any price.”

"Are you listening, West Yorkshire?" 

It hasn’t stopped the furtive chatter – probably because Gold Coast just sold the perfunctory Adam Griffiths to Saudi side Al-Shabab for a cool £330,000.

Griffiths played for Gold Coast just once after signing from A-League rivals Newcastle Jets.

But surely no amount of money will separate the A-League’s most dangerous striker from its new headline-grabbing club.

Smeltz has scored in all three A-League rounds so far this season, profiting from the incisive vision of the league’s best player Jason Culina and some insightful link-up play with ex-Hartlepool striker Joel Porter.

But it’s international success that Shane Smeltz will soon be dreaming of.

Forget their disastrous showing at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup, if New Zealand reach South Africa, it could mark one man's remarkable turnaround from Halifax Town hacker to World Cup hero.

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