International Friendly: Serbia vs. New Zealand
Date: Saturday 29th May 16:15 (GMT)
Venue: Hypo Group Arena, Austria
The All Whites take on Serbia this Saturday, 400 meters above sea level in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt. But it is not just the high altitude that the All Whites might struggle to contend with. With world cup ambitions of their own, Serbia will be there for more than just a friendly kick around.
As an international footballing force Serbia may not strike fear into the hearts of many, especially when you consider their last World Cup outing in 2006 (then as Serbia and Montenegro, now just Serbia) , where they were knocked out in the first round after being beaten in all 3 group games. Although, considering that their group consisted of the Ivory Coast, Netherlands AND Argentina (who, incidentally, hit them for 6 without reply), one could probably forgive them of their short comings that year.
This time around however, Serbia has the quality and the determination to contend with the very best. Finishing above France during qualification and hotly tipped to follow Germany through to the knockout stages of the World Cup, they have real quality running throughout the team, and represent New Zealand’s toughest test in recent times – A sentiment shared by All Whites Coach Ricki Herbert:
“Serbia could be one of the hardest games we have, including the World Cup.”
Serbia’s coach Rodomir Antic has said he is taking the warm up match “very seriously”, so is thought to be naming a strong squad featuring some familiar household names. Manchester United’s Namanja Vidic, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and Birmingham City bound Nicola Zigic are all expected to be included.
However Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic is to be rested after joining his team late from his recent Champions league triumph in Madrid. With the World cup in a little over 2 weeks time, Antic see’s this as the perfect warm up match for his players:
“New Zealand will be our preparation for playing against Australia [who are] a carbon copy of the Kiwis’ team.”
New Zealand, however, will be forced to experiment with different players for the high altitude encounter, as injury or personal engagements will mean Ricki Herbert will once again be using his squad to it’s full capacity. Chris Killen, the first half hero from the match against Australia, has temporarily left the squad to be married in the UK, leaving the door open for West Brom’s 19 year old striker Chris Wood to stake a claim in the All Whites 3 man attack.
Also, Aaron Clapham will be filling in for the injured Tim Brown, while cover will also be needed for Michael Mcglinchey who pulled up in training with a minor hamstring problem. 21 year old Winston Reid is also expected to make his first start for the All Whites, having impressed as a substitute last week.So for Herbert it will be a case of trying out his World Cup ‘plan B’ on Saturday, which goes for both his squad, and as his tactics. 6 ft 2 Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic will almost certainly be able to deal with the aerial threat posed by Rory Fallon, and with 6 ft 8 striker Nicola Zigic at the other end of the pitch, Fallon may find he has more defensive duties than attacking ones on the day.
So the aerial bombardment of the oppositions goal, which proved to be very effective against the Socceroos last week, may need to be substituted for something a little less direct if they are to have any hope of breaching the experienced Serbian defense. Herbert though, seems content to try and test his squad with the very best before their tournament begins:
“The challenges won’t get any easier from now on… We’ll try a couple of different combinations and they may work, may not work, but that’s what we’re here for”
All Whites team to face Serbia:
1. Mark Paston
3. Tony Lochhead
4. Winston Reid
6. Ryan Nelsen (captain)
7. Simon Elliott
9. Shane Smeltz
11. Leo Bertos
14. Rory Fallon
19. Tommy Smith
20. Chris Wood
21. Jeremy Christie
2. Ben Sigmund, 5. Ivan Vicelich, 12. Glen Ross, 13. Andy Barron, 15. Michael McGlinchey, 16. Aaron Clapham, 17. David Mulligan, 18. Andrew Boyens, 22. Jeremy Brockie, 23. James Bannatyne, Cole Peverley