International Warm Up Match: Chile 2 -0 New Zealand (Fierro 67′, Paredes 71′). Attendance: 15,000.
If you happened to tune into this game a little late, you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was an opening match for the World Cup. With Chilean television crews, a packed grand stand, and vuvuzela’s a plenty, the All white’s where given a taste of what will be waiting for them when they walk out of the tunnel on June 15th – their first World Cup game in 28 years. Welcome to South Africa!
Coach Ricki Herbert had wanted this game to be a moderately low key affair, preferably behind closed doors. But instead he had 15,000 spectators creating a carnival atmosphere that would make most premier league stadiums blush. The locals have well and truly embraced this tournament, and everything that precedes it. Armed with a heated passion for the beautiful game, and a few thousand vuzuzela’s (extremely loud football horns), the South Africans are surely going to make this World Cup a spectacle to behold.
The result of this match was never really going to be important to Herbert. In a game with unlimited substitutions, 3 periods of 30 minutes, and an atmosphere that could yet prove to be invaluable to his player’s preparations, it was the ‘maybe’ player’s performances on the pitch that was the real focus.
Talismanic defender Ryan Nelsen was sidelined for the game not long before kick off with an ear infection, although he is expected to be fully fit for their opener against Slovakia next week. The new opening left young pretender to the defence Winston Reid with some big shoes to fill in the centre of the All Whites back line, and fill them he did. With the New Zealand goal virtually unthreatened for the first hour, it was not until the 67th minute when Chile finally found a way through. Tony Lochhead clearing off the line only for Gonzalo Fierro to steal in and beat substitute keeper James Bannatyne at the near post. 1-0
Chile’s second was not far behind. Four minutes later Humberto Suazo’s understudy Estaban Paredes beat Ivan Vicelich to connect with a ball into the box to make it two. 2-0.
Yet despite the trickery of ‘Boy Wonder’ Alexis Sanchez, and their vast technical superiority, Chile were unable to humble the All Whites with a bigger score line. Vindication, perhaps, of Herbert’s decision to stick with his young blooded defence against a world class opposition.
New Zealand created a few chances of their own though, and with an avalanche of substitutions from both sides, each kiwi striker was given a fair crack at the whip. Shane Smeltz perhaps coming the closest – his goal bound effort was cleared off the line before Tommy Smith flashed the rebound across the face of goal.
Trying to remain positive, their lack of prowess in front of goal is clearly a concern for Herbert:
“I want to see a bit more spark up front. I think we’ve created chances against arguably some of the best teams in the world. We got three, four chances today and that could be your roll of the dice in the World Cup. I want see things a bit sharper”
The mystery of who will be starting in the All Whites defence on June 15th is still no clearer. Old boys Ivan Vicelich and Ben Sigmund played a full 90 minutes alongside their ‘would be’ replacements Tommy Smith and Winston Reid, signalling that Herbert is still undecided as to who will be lining up at the back with Ryan Nelsen for their opening game. Although, Sigmund in particular grasped the opportunity with both hands, fighting for every loose ball, he would have done much to remind his manager why he has long been a regular feature in the kiwi backline.
The defensive selection may come as a welcome dilemma to their coach, although the choice over his misfiring front line may not be so welcome. But if the defence can remain as solid as it has been in recent times, it might just be a case of hoping it will be All White on the night for his shot shy forwards next week.
New Zealand: Paston (60. Bannatyne), Sigmund, Reid (45. McGlinchey), Smith, Bertos (80. Barron), Elliott (30. Christie), Vicelich, Lochhead (80. Boyens), Killen (60. Mulligan), Fallon (30. Smeltz), Brockie (45. Wood).