It's a country of four million people that was born out of the unravelling of one of the world's great empires. Its economy is dependent on primary production and its exporters struggle to gain access to foreign markets. It shares a language and close cultural ties with its larger neighbour to the west. From time to time significant strains arise between the ethnic majority that makes up 80% of the population and the various minorities that make up the remainder. The people are hospitable, if somewhat reserved.
Funnily enough, the description above applies equally well to the Republic of Moldova and the Dominion of New Zealand. There are of course many, many differences, however the similarities are interesting.
What brought this to mind was last night's soccer world cup qualification game between New Zealand and Bahrain, New Zealand won 1-0 in front of the country's largest-ever soccer crowd (35,000) at the 'Cake-Tin' in Wellington. As a result, the 'All-Whites' get to go to their first world cup since 1982.
Traditionally a rugby-playing nation, New Zealand's soccer eleven is likely to suffer in South Africa. The raw material is promising enough, however the team simply doesn't get match-practice against decent sides.
Turning to Moldova for a moment, it has been very pleasing to watch the development of rugby in the country over the last few years. Readers might be interested to note that the national rugby team holds the 43rd position in the IRB's table while in FIFA's rankings the national soccer team comes in only at 88.
Once again, however, the Moldovan rugby team doesn't get good match practice, having to settle for playing other third-tier sides such as Belgium and Portugal, rather than the real powerhouses of Western Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.
So here's the idea: New Zealand sends its soccer team up to Moldova & Romania, where it can have a go at Sheriff, Zimbru, Steaua, Unirea etc. and the national teams of both countries. Moldova reciprocates by sending its rugby team down to New Zealand for the next southern winter to improve its skills by taking on a range of challenging provincial sides.
Now we just need to find several hundred thousand Euros to pay for travel and accommodation. Has anyone out there just won the lottery?