Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Antipodean Wales

New Zealand. I've never been there. I know there are lots of Punjabis and Gujratis there for some reason. I know Peter Jackson filmed quite a bit of that sad Lord of the Rings trilogy there. If someone were to emigrate there it would be like going to live in Wales about 24 hours away. I hear its beautiful though and that there are lots of sheep there.

Today, they kick-off only their second World Cup. I know they have the backing of much of the sporting and general community in the country. News of their World Cup squad and their subsequent victory over Serbia in a warm-up, relegated news of the Rugby Union teams fortunes to lesser zones of the Kiwi rags.

Its a strange one. Considering we had no team from Oceania playing in recent World Cups until Germany 2006 its strange that there are 2 now albeit the Aussies came through Asian qualifying.

Ricky Herbert, New Zealand's head coach, is in charge of one of the world's lower end Championship or League One sides. In fact a group of the All White's team plays for the likes of Ipswich and Plymouth. Ryan Nelsen plays at the highest level within their squad, his no nonsense approach is familiar to Blackburn fans.

The New Zealand media is worried about their midfield. They've drafted in Vicelich to keep more possession in the middle http://www.nzherald.co.nz/soccer-football/news/article.cfm?c_id=86&objectid=10651764, while that decision is derided because of lack of bedding time (he had been in the wilderness until last year's confeds cup) it also means a lack of pace with out Tommy Smith if Ivan Vicelich is included. Rory Fallon's goal got them to the World Cup while Chris Killen earns his keep with Premiership bound, West Brom. Shane Smeltz is another player of note. Generally, though they don't have the player resources to compete and this will be tough on them.

The Confeds Cup was actually a litmus test for the All Whites and they were pretty much the whipping boys in their group and I think they only gave Italy a tiny fright. But they've been in international competition before with Wellington and Auckland having represented in the World Club Championships. A big learning curve.

As I mentioned yesterday, Slovakia have quality and should easily win this one. Shocks do happen though.

Portugal and the Ivory Coast kick-off group G this afternoon. Focus will be on Drogba (will he play) and Ronaldo. I'm looking forward to seeing Romaric for the Elephants. Plays for Sevilla and if African teams lack anything it is creativity in the middle of the park and he can make chances apparently.

Portugal's Raul Meireles is key for me, he acts as a pivot around which the forwards and wingers can safely operate. Deco will be infront of him at some point so his role is critical. Essentially, Porto's Meireles allows Ronaldo to riverdance like an idiot all over the pitch. News that Nani has been sent home rather for disciplinary reasons is emanating out of Portugal.http://www.skysports.com/football/world-cup-2010/story/0,27032,13954_6206357,00.html. They won't want any distractions. Nani broke a collarbone attempting a bicycle kick in training. Thats enough reason to be sent home.

A draw here. A scoring draw but a draw. 2 - 2.

Brazil and North Korea tonight. Brazil are functional this year under Dunga. Not jogo bonito. Shud still ease past North Korea though. Prank advises me that even if North Korea lose, that the papers in Pyongyang will have Kim Jong Il as scoring the winner with a back heal from 40 yards.

Everyday is a like a football party during the World Cup. The games haven't been extraordinary but this is better than any other celebration. Non-stop football of the highest level. This is boyhood dreams.

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