- Kiwis open the Confederations Cup on Saturday against the hosts
- They have been based in Saint Petersburg since arriving
Young coach Anthony Hudson is an inspirational figure for the team
By Brendon Hanley with New Zealand
They are family
There are a few fascinating familial situations in the New Zealand team. Veteran defender Tommy Smith was married this past Sunday, so his Confederations Cup trip is in essence his honeymoon. Alex Rufer is the nephew of famous Kiwi international Wynton Rufer, who played against the Soviet Union at the 1982 FIFA World Cup. Will Alex do the same against the Russians on Saturday?
Dane Ingham made his international debut in March of this year in the same match as his brother, Jai, who just missed the cut for the Russia 2017 squad. Also, the team have repeatedly talked about their family-like bond in camp. Star striker Chris Wood, who was at Smith’s wedding, said: “We are brothers, and no matter what, we will work for each other.”
Aware of history
There has been a lot of talk in the New Zealand camp about wanting to make history by winning their first Confederations Cup match. There also is an awareness that the last time the Kiwis were on the senior global stage, they impressed.
That was at South Africa 2010, when the side were famously the only team in the event not to lose a match. That included a 1-1 draw against defending champions Italy. When asked about it, Wood said the current team had the chance to do even better.
“We have a lot more quality and more strength in depth, so we have the tools to be as good as that team. We have a long way to go to achieve anything, but we have the ability to surpass them,” he said.
The All Whites are anxious to take the pitch after a long build-up. They also want to get the first match underway because they believe they have a good chance of impressing. It figures to be a nervy start with both teams likely to line-up in 5-3-2 formations and a handful of young players in key roles.
But the Kiwis are betting they’ll be able to pressure the Russians into feeling the heat on such a stage. “We think we can cause them some problems,“ said Smith. “It’s going to be a big occasion for Russia playing in front of their home fans and opening the tournament, so hopefully the pressure will get to them.”
Midfielder Michael McGlinchey said the key would be seizing the advantage. “The first ten or 15 minutes are going to be interesting.”
— Wellington Phoenix (@WgtnPhoenixFC) June 16, 2017
Experienced defender Michael Boxall captured the spirit well. “Not only as a team but as a country, I think we love proving people wrong. We love coming up against much stronger teams and surprising a few people.”