Underdogs Kiwis hope to create few upsetsMay 31st, 2010 - 8:34 pm ICT by IANS
Wellington, May 31 (DPA) One of the unquestioned minnows of World Cup football in South Africa this summer, New Zealand are happy just to be back in the spotlight after a 28-year absence from the finals.
Coach Ricki Herbert was in that team in Spain in 1982, and he will be trying to lead the All Whites to better than the three losses at that event.
Herbert and his side will take a small amount of consolation from their appearance at last summers Confederations Cup, also in South Africa, where they failed to score a goal but did find their first ever point at a senior FIFA competition when they drew with Iraq 0-0.
The competition was good experience for the Oceania representatives, who struggle to find top level matches, but they will have an even more difficult task on their hands this June, drawn into Group F with defending champions Italy, consistent South American challengers Paraguay and Slovakia, who are in their first finals as an independent state.
While their second opponents, Italy, would seem to have claim on one of the two spots into the next round, the All Whites are dreaming of nipping points in their opener against the Slovaks before potentially doing the same to the Paraguayans in their last match.
Physically imposing and defensive in nature, the New Zealanders will be unlikely to befriend many neutrals at the finals, but their backline should earn grudging respect from the world’s watchers.
Veteran captain Ryan Nelsen of Blackburn Rovers is the key figure in the centre of defence and is an inspirational player for the side on and off the pitch.
Nelsen led the defence to an impressive pair of shutouts of Asian representatives Bahrain in the cross-continental qualifying play-off to reach South Africa, although towering goalkeeper Mark Paston deserves plaudits for a second-leg penalty save to preserve the 1-0 aggregate victory.
The scorer of the only goal of the tie, Rory Fallon, is a consistent option at the other end of the pitch alongside Shane Smeltz, who has been named Oceania Player of the Year for two consecutive years. Based at West Bromwich Albion, Chris Wood is another promising striker at just 18 years of age.
Herbert, who maintains his job managing Kiwi club Wellington Phoenix in Australia’s A-League, surely knows that his long-shot team are not helped by the early end to the Australian season where most of his players compete.
But the determined boss and his inspirational captain have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and Australia’s abandonment of the Oceania region, leaves them looking to go from strength to strength.
“Leading this team out at the World Cup is going to be the greatest honour of my career,” said Nelsen recently.
“We are underdogs, but we have great unity in the team and on a good day you never know what can happen,” said the captain.
The coach: Ricki Herbert, 49, has been determined to bring the New Zealand national team back to the World Cup since he was a young figure in the side that lost all three of their matches at Spain 1982.
Relatively inexperienced compared to his coaching rivals, he is a conservative tactician, which should play to his teams strengths - although he called on three strikers in the decisive play-off matches against Bahrain.
A former defender, who won 61 caps for the Kiwis, Herbert took up the national team reins in 2005, winning the OFC Nations Cup in 2008 to qualify for the Confederations Cup. A first-ever point in a senior FIFA competition in South Africa last summer and a famous 1-0 aggregate win over Bahrain to reach the finals this year is enough for his tenure to be already considered a success.
The star: Ryan Nelsen is the most well-known face on the New Zealand national team, having starred for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League for the last five seasons. The 32-year-old central defender is captain for club and country and is a particularly inspiring figure for the All Whites.
A talented athlete, Nelsen is nonetheless susceptible to injuries, and he missed out on the Confederations Cup last summer with a calf problem. There were worries about his fitness for the World Cup after he went down with a knee injury in February, but he should be ready to lead the side into their second finals appearance.
- New Zealand names squad for World Cup qualifier against Bahrain - Sep 29, 2009
- New Zealand retain squad for Bahrain play-off - Oct 29, 2009
- Just getting to the finals is victory for New Zealand (Team Profile) - Nov 28, 2009
- New Zealand defender comes out of retirement for Confederations Cup - May 22, 2009
- English club QPR sign Junior Hoilett - Jul 28, 2012
- All Whites happy with spoiler role against Italy - Jun 19, 2010
- Paraguay through to knockout stage as Group F toppers (Lead) - Jun 24, 2010
- India poised to complete 5-0 rout - Dec 09, 2010
- Paraguay top Group F despite goalless draw with New Zealand (Roundup) - Jun 25, 2010
- Beating Serbia, New Zealand's biggest football victory: Coach - Jun 01, 2010
- Paraguay close to last 16 as New Zealand dream of glory - Jun 23, 2010
- Ryder-Oram plot South Africa's downfall, take New Zealand into semis (Roundup) - Mar 26, 2011
- Herbert proud as Kiwis earn first point (Lead) - Jun 16, 2010
- South Africa ahead on form, Kiwis count on Vettori (Preview) - Mar 24, 2011
- Last-minute goal makes new boy Winston Reid a national hero - Jun 16, 2010
Tags: aggregate victory, backline, blackburn rovers, captain ryan, challengers, confederations cup, consolation, fifa competition, good experience, independent state, inspirational player, last match, minnows, neutrals, new zealanders, plaudits, ryan nelsen, slovaks, veteran captain, world cup football