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Team preview: New Zealand

June 3, 2010
By Scott Anthony
Special to

The All Whites made their only previous appearance at the World Cup in Spain 28 years ago. Over the course of three heavy defeats to Brazil, the USSR and Scotland, they scored twice and conceded 12 goals. Football has moved on in New Zealand since, but the All Whites' path to the World Cup finals (assured by beating the likes of Fiji and Bahrain) doesn't seem adequate preparation for the tests ahead.

There are three things to remember about this New Zealand side. Its best result in a major competition is a 0-0 draw with Iraq. Its top professional club side (Wellington Phoenix) plays in the Australian league. Its squad contains two veterans (Simon Elliott and David Mulligan) who are currently unattached to clubs. Take these facts together and it's clear that a modest improvement on New Zealand's 1982 results will represent a huge step forward.

Coach: Ricki Herbert

Herbert currently manages both the New Zealand national team and Wellington Phoenix. After a successful playing career (he starred for the All Whites in Spain), Herbert established his reputation by guiding New Zealand's U-23s to the Sydney Olympics. He cemented a place in the annals of NZ soccer history by qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Style of play

The approach for Herbert's side is understandably varied. While the All Whites adopt an attacking 4-4-2 against Oceania rivals such as New Caledonia and Vanuatu, they've recently been experimenting with a more cautious 5-3-2 formation.

Players to watch

1. Ryan Nelsen. New Zealand's captain is an imperious center back in England's Premier League whose leadership has underpinned Blackburn Rovers' no-nonsense defense for the last five years.

2. Shane Smeltz. Smeltz scored eight goals for the All Whites in qualifying, securing the Gold Coast United striker's status as the star of New Zealand soccer.

3. Aaron Clapham. This is Herbert's wild-card selection. The All Whites lack creativity and it's likely that the uncapped attacking midfielder will be summoned from the subs bench to supply it.

Who's hot

Winston Reid. The 21-year-old Reid is a well-regarded Danish-New Zealander who switched his international allegiance to the All Whites in March 2010.

Who's not

David Mulligan. After a modest career in the lower tiers of the English football league, Mulligan doesn't currently have a club but made the final New Zealand squad.

Three key questions

1. Is this bad timing for New Zealand? Australasian clubs finished their league seasons in March. Will New Zealand players be fresh and focused (a la South Korea in 2002) or simply lacking in match fitness due to a three-month break?

2. Which New Zealand will we see at the World Cup? Will it be the nothing-to-lose, attacking side of the team that thrillingly lost 4-3 to Italy in 2009 or the team that frigidly shuffled through the Confederations Cup shortly afterward?

3. How focused is captain Ryan Nelsen? Not only has Nelsen struggled with injury this season, but he may miss part of the tournament to be at the birth of his first child. Nelson's presence will have a huge bearing on the All Whites' ability to grind out points against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia

Projected lineup

G James Bannatyne, Team Wellington (NZ)
(Note: first choice Glen Moss is suspended for the opening two matches) D David Mulligan, unattached
D Ivan Vicelich, Auckland City (NZ)
D Ryan Nelsen, Blackburn Rovers (England)
D Tony Lochhead, Wellington Phoenix (NZ)
M Leo Bertos, Wellington Phoenix (NZ)
M Tim Brown, Wellington Phoenix (NZ)
M Simon Elliott, unattached
M Jeremy Brockie, Newcastle Jets (NZ)
F Chris Killen, Middlesbrough (England)
F Shane Smeltz, Gold Coast United (Australia)