World Cup 2010 - Countdown: New Zealand bank on solidity

Tue, 11 May 09:53:00 2010

We begin our countdown of the 32 World Cup contenders with a look at outsiders New Zealand, who make their second finals appearance.

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NEW ZEALAND

Previous appearances in finals: One

Best performance: group stage 1982

Coach: Ricki Herbert, the perm-headed central defender who was at the heart of New Zealand's defence for nine years, including the World Cup campaign in 1981-82. Appointed All Whites assistant coach in 2003 under Mick Waitt before he took the top job in 2005. Also coach of the Wellington Phoenix in Australia's A-League. Publicly stoic and unemotional, he has imbued the team with a burning passion and desire, characteristic of his no-nonsense playing career.

Key players:

Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers). Age: 32. Defender. Widely considered New Zealand's best player since Wynton Rufer. Achieved a political science degree from the prestigious Stanford University in the United States before playing four seasons with D.C. United in Major League Football. Transferred to Blackburn Rovers in 2005 on an 18-month contract that was extended after an impressive first season where he had become a mainstay of the defence. A vastly experienced and calming influence, who sets the tone for the team.

Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast United). Age: 28. Forward. Bounced around Australia's professional leagues and in England's lower leagues before finding his feet with the Wellington Phoenix. Named Oceania's Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008, and won the A-League's Golden Boot in 2008/09. Good instinct for goal, works hard and links well with the midfield.

Simon Elliott (Unattached). Age: 35. Midfielder. Vastly experienced having spent most of his professional career in the US, though a two-and-a-half-year stint at Fulham in the Premier League was curtailed by a serious calf injury. Primarily a defensive midfielder he forms a tough backbone of the team with Nelsen. Will need to be at his best in South Africa to support the defence and provide ball for his more attacking counterparts.

FIFA world ranking April 2010: 78th

How they qualified: Little trouble in winning the four-team final phase in Oceania with a game to spare and qualifying for the two-legged play-off against fifth-placed Asian side Bahrain. Defended in numbers in the 0-0 draw in Manama. More attack-minded in Wellington with Rory Fallon's first-half header the decider, though needed a second-half penalty save from goalkeeper Mark Paston to ensure qualification with the 1-0 win.

Prospects: Having spent 28 years in the World Cup wilderness they will give it their all, though they are unlikely to advance out of the group. Technically not as sound as most of their rivals and lack burning pace. Securing their first point from a World Cup finals match would be a major boost for the team and the sport in rugby-mad New Zealand.

Expert view - former NZ international Harry Ngata: "There are players in the squad who have not played a lot of football recently or who have no club to call home but have been rewarded with a spot. What bigger stage to court any prospective employers than that of the World Cup. You simply cannot get any bigger than this. The squad has a balanced feel about it. In the defensive stakes we are probably better off than we have been for a long time. It looks solid and will be well organised by skipper Ryan Nelsen and veteran Ivan Vicelich." (from NZ Herald)

Bookmakers' odds: 3000/1

Final 23-man squad - Goalkeepers: James Bannatyne (Team Wellington), Glen Moss (Melbourne Victory) Mark Paston (Wellington Phoenix)

Defenders: Andy Boyens (New York Red Bulls), Tony Lochhead (Wellington Phoenix), Ryan Nelsen (captain, Blackburn Rovers), Winston Reid (FC Midtjylland), Ben Sigmund (Wellington Phoenix), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town), Ivan Vicelich (Auckland City)

Midfielders: Andy Barron (Team Wellington), Leo Bertos (Wellington Phoenix), Jeremy Brockie (Newcastle Jets), Tim Brown (Wellington Phoenix), Jeremy Christie (Tampa Bay Rowdies), Aaron Clapham (Canterbury United), Simon Elliott (unattached), Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners), David Mulligan (unattached)

Forwards: Rory Fallon (Plymouth Argyle), Chris Killen (Middlesbrough), Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast), Chris Wood (West Bromwich Albion)

Reuters

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