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New Zealand vs. Chile: Training Match Preview.



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Training Game: New Zealand vs. Chile
Venue: Kanyamazane Stadium, Nelspruit, South Africa
Kick off: 09th June, 10:30am GMT (11:30pm NZT)

The battle for a seat on this years plane to the World Cup may be over, but the fight for a chance to leave a lasting impression in South Africa is still very much alive for the history boys of this All Whites squad. Three players in particular will be giving it their all in this, albeit unorthodox, football match against a Chile side ranked 18th in the world.

The game itself cannot be officially classed as an international friendly. With unlimited substitutions, the game will not be structured in the usual 45 minutes per half: 

”I asked for a training game with no pressure, with as many subs as we want and three 30 minute periods.”

Said All Whites Coach Ricki Herbert.

He may be trying to ease the pressure on some of his players for their last warm-up match, yet it will do little to comfort recently ousted defenders Ben Sigmund and Ivan Vicelich. Both the defender’s roles have been reduced to keeping the bench warm in the last two All White outings, with both of them being overlooked in favour of much younger blood.

Winston Reid and Tommy Smith have both stormed into Herbert’s first 11 with a string of impressive performances, and if either two of the old guard are to reclaim that which has long since been theirs, then nothing short of an all round performance against Chile will do.

Despite the suggestion that everyone would get a run out against Slovenia last week (a promise made again for today’s game), Herbert decided to stick with Reid and Smith at the back for the full 90 minutes – ultimately leaving Sigmund and Vicelich on the bench, and making only 1 substitution for the whole game.

It suggests that he is giving the young pair as much game time together as possible before the tournament, fueling speculation that they are now mainstays in his preferred back line. However Herbert is adamant his final selection is still far from concluded:

“It’s something I have been, and will be sleeping on for the next few nights. But post-Chile we’ll have to do it. It will be a hard call, you could argue the case on all four of them.”

Striker Chris Wood is another who will be eager to impress his coach. After a hat trick of missed chances against Slovenia last week, he will be keen to show his more clinical side, and that he is not just in South Africa to make up the numbers. If, as expected, New Zealand rest Shane Smelts and Rory Fallon, then Woods should receive enough game time on the pitch to put the Slovenian ghosts behind him.

With Chris Killen returning from a hamstring strain, both should be able to carve out enough opportunities between them to add to Ricki Herbert’s selection headache.

Meanwhile, Chile Coach Marcelo Bielsa has only one such headache ahead of the game, and indeed for the first few games of the World Cup. Star Striker Humberto Suazo pulled a hamstring in Chiles recent 3-0 win over Israel, and is a worry for the opening two group games. Esteban Paredes is expected to deputise.

One to Watch:

Chile’s 21yr old attacking midfielder Alexis Sanchez is one of world football’s rising stars. Making his International debut as a sub against New Zealand in April 2006 when he was just 17, he is known locally as ‘El Nino Maravilla’ ,or ‘ The Boy Wonder’. He was signed up by Italian club Udinese before being sent out on loan to River Plate in 2007, gaining vast experience in the pressure cooker that is Argentinean football. 

He then moved back to Udinese in 2008 and has become a fan favourite with his regular first team place and his silky skills. Scoring 11 in 28 international appearances for Chile, he is sure to give New Zealand’s back line a stern test in their final warm up game before their opener against Slovakia on June 15th.

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I have just moved to New Zealand, away from the U.K. and my beloved Bolton Wanderers, and have set up camp in perhaps the least football savvy city in NZ; Auckland. But New Zealand is a country where 'soccer' is on the rise, either due to the influx of British ex pats yearning to fill the void left by vacant saturday afternoons, or the first All Whites qualification for a world cup since the 1982 finals. Whatever the reason, this summers (or NZ winters) atmosphere here in NZ promises to electric, and i'm going to follow it every step of the way. I have written the occasional blog in the past for various reasons, but i have never written for football, which is strange as i live and breathe it, so it'll be an emotional journey for the both of us. I'm sure we'll get there in the end though, through what promises to be an amazing World cup 2010. COME ON YOU WHITES!!!!