Match 12 of the FIFA World Cup comes to us from Rustenburg between two World Cup novices New Zealand and Slovakia. The All Whites are the 3rd lowest ranked team in the tournament and are expected to be one of the few ‘whipping boys’ of the World Cup. They are making their second ever appearance in the World Cup finals with comments from most footballing quarters emphasizing Australia’s move to the AFC to be a huge reason for their qualification. Since there independence in 1993, Slovakia have never previously participated in the finals rounds of a major tournament and this is a great opportunity for them to showcase their brand of football on the biggest stage. While neither team is expected to really duel for 2nd round honours, a win for either will set some dreams in motion, while a loss could mean plenty of free time to do some shopping for the family ahead of games against Group F’s big fish – South American giants Paraguay and World Champions Italy.
This is their second trip to the FIFA World Cup finals after a gap of almost 3 decades. After spending all these years in the shadow of neighbours Australia, the All Whites have finally shown some purpose under coach Ricki Herbert. The team consists of mostly A-League (Australia) based players but the core of the side can be traced to some of Europe’s more enticing leagues. Considered as one of the biggest underdogs of the tournament, the men from the island down under will look to cover-up what they lack in skill through committment, teamwork and drive.
They picked just the one win during the warm up games prior to the FIFA World Cup. That victory came against Serbia, who were touted for great things by the pundits and the All Whites did manage to pull off probably one of the biggest pre-tournament upsets of the year. But defeats to Australia, Mexico and more recently Slovenia have certainly not helped their preparations. New Zealand’s last visit to the World Cup finals ended in disappointment as they lost all three of their games and conceded 12 goals in the process. However, if results against Bahrain and Serbia are anything to go by, one could just see the All Whites do the unthinkable at South Africa 2010 and maybe pick up their first ever point. (read more about team New Zealand)
The 34th ranked team in world, Slovakia has come a long way despite just being in its teens. They will be making their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance having missed out on the last four occassions. They have never ever qualified for any major tournament and there will be little pressure on them to do great things as the supporters realise that they are still an infant footballing nation. 22-year old Marek Hamsik is the captain of this team, and is definitely one to look out for the future with Martin Skrtel taking the Premier League by storm with Liverpool and others following suit.
Leading up to the World Cup, the Slovakians played 3 warm up games in the space of 3 months. While a defeat at the hands of Norway wasn’t received well by fans back home, a draw against fellow finalist Cameroon and a 3 – 0 thrashing of 2006 finalists Costa Rica did see their popularity and confidence increase manifold. It’s a thorn filled ride ahead for the Slovakians who are more than capable of causing an upset or two. Let’s hope that they give us a cracking performance in their opening game and set the tone for this historic edition of the tournament. (read more about team Slovakia)
Road to the Finals
New Zealand’s road to the finals was far from bumpy. They won 5 of their 6 games in the round robin format of the Oceania qualification which was also doubled up as the OFC Nations Cup. They then went into a play-off against Bahrain, who are ranked as Asia’s fifth best team. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the All Whites came out on top in front of a massive crowd winning the home leg 1-0 after a goalless draw in the first leg.
The team finished top of their qualification group which consisted of Slovenia, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino. They managed 22 points out of a possible 30, losing both their fixtures against Slovenia but being undefeated in all 8 other fixtures. They managed 4 points of a possible six against Czech Republic beating them in Prague by a 2-1 scoreline. A lot is expected of this young group after such a stellar showing.
Nov 14, New Zealand 1-0 Bahrain
Mar 04, Mexico 2-0 New Zealand
May 24, Australia 2-1 New Zealand
May 29, New Zealand 1 – 0 Serbia
June 5, Slovenia 3 – 1 New Zealand
Nov 14, Slovakia 1-0 United States
Nov 17, Slovakia 1-2 Chile
Mar 03, Slovakia 0-1 Norway
May 29, Slovakia 1-1 Cameroon
June 5, Slovakia 3-0 Costa Rica
Players to Watch
Shane Smeltz:- Two time Oceania Player of the Year, Shane Smeltz will be expected to conjure the goals along side Middlesborough striker Chris Killen. He is the A-League’s biggest super star and was the league’s top scorer last season. With 16 goals in 30 caps the 28-year old also boasts of some international quality and one would think that if the All Whites are to do well in this year’s tournament, he will have to come up with the goods.
Marek Hamsik: – Captain of the Slovakian team Marek Hamsik has taken the Serie A by storm thanks largely to his exploits with Napoli. The 22-year old can play up front, as a playmaker or even a central midfielder and can also create and score goals at will. He was the Naples based team’s top scorer for the last two seasons and a host of big European clubs have been eyeing his progress with a lot of intent.
Probable Line up
New Zealand: – Paston, Nelson, Lochhead, Reid, Smith, Elliot, Bertos, Christie, Fallon, Smeltz, Killen
The All Whites had almost this very line-up when they beat the Serbians and the manager would look to reproduce that result with as consistent a team as possible. Chris Killen wasn’t playing in that game as the team didn’t want to risk his troublesome calf. They are a solid bunch of players who will give this game their all and try to win it even if they are overwhelming underdogs. Ryan Nelson, who plays his football in the Barclays Premier League with Blackburn Rovers is a towering presence at the back and will be a handful in both boxes.
Slovakia:- Mucha, Cech, Skrtel, Zabavnik, Durica, Hamsik, Strba, Weiss, Vittek, Sestak, Stoch
Hamsik and Skrtel are definitely the two most popular names in that line-up and Slovakia will be pleased that their core plies its trade in Europe’s biggest leagues and is as consistent as a rock. The Coach’s son Vladimir Weiss is another talented player who also plays in the Premiership and impressed during his short stint on loan at Bolton Wanderers. These three will be the foundation stones on whom a potentially great team can be built, and the experience of playing the game at the highest level should set the stage for many future World Cup triumphs.
Prediction:- This is very romantic game to predict with both teams venturing into unknown pastures. Slovakia and New Zealand both don’t have points in the World Cup, so as much as I would like to see a draw, I don’t see it happening. Slovakia to win 2-1 with Marek Hamsik scoring and Smeltz getting New Zealand their third ever World Cup goal.
Also Read: Group F Preview
Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa
This article is the exclusive copyright of TheSportsCampus.com and permission to reproduce the same has not been granted.