Ben Somerford

Oceania winners New Zealand come into June’s Confederations Cup at long odds to win a match, let alone progress through their group.

The All-Whites, as they are nicknamed, have competed in the tournament twice before yet have never claimed a point and expectations are it will be difficult again. A calf injury which has ruled out their most accomplished player, captain Ryan Nelsen, makes the task even harder.

Nevertheless, New Zealand will enjoy the experience of the Confederations Cup, as their main focus in 2009 is their intercontinental World Cup playoff against the fifth best Asian nation which takes place over two legs later this year. And because regular competitive football is a rarity for the All-Whites, due to reasons including geography and profile, the opportunity of competing at the Confederations Cup in a group including quality opponents Spain, Iraq and hosts South Africa, is seen as crucial preparation for their intercontinental playoff.

But there is still plenty of work to be done when considering in the last 12 months the All-Whites have suffered defeats against the likes of Fiji, Thailand and Tanzania. The ‘Kiwis’ don’t really carry any form into the Confederations Cup considering their limited number of competitive matches and friendlies although a pair of recent results in warm-up games against Tanzania, a 2-1 loss, and Botswana, a 0-0 draw, suggest the All-Whites may be up against it in South Africa.


Ricki Herbert

The All-Whites are coached by Ricki Herbert, a 61-time-capped former national team player, who also conveniently combines that role with the head job at New Zealand’s premier club Wellington Phoenix, who compete in Australia’s A-League. With the bulk of New Zealand’s squad playing in either Australia or New Zealand, Herbert knows his players well. Herbert is a popular boss and has done a good job with the Phoenix, but the questions remain over his ability to inspire at a higher level considering his only coaching experiences have been in his homeland.

Players to Watch

Shane Smeltz – Striker – Gold Coast United (Australia)

Striker Shane Smeltz is the All-Whites main-man having collected a truckload of honours at international and club level recently including the 2008/09 A-League Player of the Year and Golden Boot awards. The German-born frontman, who netted in the recent 2-1 loss against Tanzania, has an amazing international record having scored 11 goals in his last 10 appearances for the All-Whites.

Mark Paston – Goalkeeper – Wellington Phoenix (Australia)

Former Bradford City and St Johnstone goalkeeper Mark Paston is an accomplished stopper who followers of the Confederations Cup are likely to get familiar with.

Andy Boyens – Defender – New York Red Bulls (United States)

American-based defender Andy Boyens will be one to look out for, especially in the absence of Nelsen. The promising 25 year-old centre-back was part of the New York Red Bulls side which went to the MLS Cup last season.

Chris Wood – Forward – West Bromwich Albion (England)

Chris Wood is the rising star of New Zealand football having made a number of English Premier League appearances late this season for West Bromwich Albion. The 17 year-old pacey forward may only be used off the bench in South Africa, but it’ll be exciting to see how he goes.


Herbert and the All-Whites realistically won’t expect to progress past the first round at the Confederations Cup, but putting in some decent performances will be important as preparation for later on this year. New Zealand see the match with Iraq as a key game as they believe the Middle East nation will be a similar opponent to that which they’ll face in the playoff.

Kiwi fans will also look forward to their match against the hosts considering their sporting rivalry from Cricket and Rugby Union.

Nevertheless, the All-Whites face many problems including the fact the bulk of their squad is out of season and thus short on match sharpness and fitness along with a lack of quality, familiarity and form. So an improvement on previous Confederations Cup campaigns will be seen as a success, but that seems very unlikely. Realistically it is all about putting in some decent performances.

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