News Live Scores

Confederations Cup Preview: New Zealand

The All Whites have by default become Oceania’s strongest football nation following the defection of Australia to the Asian Football Confederation; whether that is of benefit to the country’s development both on and off the pitch is questionable.

Without the luxury of high-class opposition on a competitive and regular basis, outings such as the Confederations Cup take on an added significance as New Zealand prepare for a two-legged play-off against Asia’s fifth-best side to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

In June they will face off against hosts South Africa, Asian champions Iraq and European champions Spain. It will be only their third appearance at a tournament in which they have never previously won a match.

Having only once qualified for the World Cup - Spain in 1982, where they lost to Scotland, Brazil and the USSR - the departure of traditional powerhouses Australia from their confederation presents New Zealand with their best chance to qualify for football’s showpiece event in years.

With an astute manager in Ricki Herbert leading them and the recent emergence of a genuine superstar in the form of A-League Player of the Year, Shane Smeltz, the right preparation in South Africa later this year might just set the All Whites up for a shock appearance return to the same country in 2010.

How They Got Here: 2008 OFC Nations Cup Champions

New Zealand automatically qualified for the home-and-away round-robin tournament, in which they faced New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Finishing first by seven points, they secured a place at the Confederations Cup as the champions of Oceania. This result also secured them a place in the play-off against the fifth-best team in Asia for a place in South Africa in 2010.

Coach: Ricki Herbert

Has had to juggle duties between the national team and A-League club the Wellington Phoenix, from whom he conveniently draws the majority of the players that make up his New Zealand squad.

A former international, he played in his country’s only ever appearance at a World Cup in Spain and, though his managerial career is only four-years-old, he has impressed in a stint with the now defunct New Zealand Knights and thus far with Phoenix.

The Team

Captained by Blackburn Rovers central defender Ryan Nelsen, the nucleus of Herbert’s side is drawn from his A-League club the Wellington Phoenix.

There is an interesting mix of overseas-based players, who tend to make up the rest of the New Zealand line-up, including Columbus Crew veteran utility-man Duncan Oughton.

Defender Andrew Boyens is also based in the MLS with Red Bull New York, though his first start on the international stage only arrived in a friendly against Wales in 2007.

Chris Killen offers experience at the highest level of club football, having played in the UEFA Champions League with Celtic and having been part of the New Zealand setup since 2000. At the age of 27, he has played for Manchester City, Oldham Athletic, Hibernian and is currently on-loan at Norwich City.

Jarrod Smith is another US-based representative, the striker having played a more pronounced role towards the end of his country’s OFC Nations Cup campaign, whilst former England youth international Chris James has chosen to play for the nation of his birth – the 21 year-old is currently based in Finland.

Wellington Phoenix team-mates Mark Paston and Glen Moss continue to fight for the No.1 goalkeeping spot, as they do on a weekly basis at club level, whilst the full-back roles lie with the adventurous Tony Lochhead and Jeremy Christie, both of whom are also at Wellington.

Winger Leo Bertos is his country’s most potent creative threat, having transferred his consistent energy from the club scene onto the international stage.

It is the figure of striker Shane Smeltz that offers hope for a successful immediate future for New Zealand football. The 27-year-old is a scorer of crucial goals for his country and perhaps one of the few players who seems comfortable on the more illustrious stage of international football.

Rising Star: Chris James


At 21-years-old, Chris James has already been part of a New Zealand side that broke ground, inspiring his country to their first ever appearance at an Under-20 World Cup. Widely regarded as one of the rising stars of New Zealand football, he has gradually been introduced onto the international scene by Herbert and the attacking midfielder might just use the stage set in South Africa in June to announce himself more loudly to the football world.

Confederations Cup History

1999 – Group Stage

2003 –
Group Stage

Prospects


Will view this tournament as preparation for their one-off qualifier against Asia’s fifth best outfit, the match against Iraq given added significance as a result.

Nelsen will be charged with organising his men at the back, many of whom will not have seen a competitive stage as big as the one in South Africa in June.

Lacking mobility and pace in central areas, they will struggle against South Africa and will be looking for nothing more than a respectable showing against European champions Spain.

Having said that, the likes of Bertos and Smeltz bring their own qualities with them and will be looking to develop their reputations further in front of the watching world.

Realistically, New Zealand won’t be expecting to earn their first win at the tournament but might be able to salvage a point or two out of the matches against South Africa and Iraq.

Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com