A mixture of disappointment and determination permeated the atmosphere as New Zealand journeyed south from Paris to Lyon following their 3-0 defeat to Japan on the opening day of the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Although fatigued by more than three weeks of travel that had taken the majority of the team from New Zealand to France via Scotland and the United States, the All Whites squad packed their sacks once more for the two-hour train trip to their new temporary home in a little town outside Lyon ready for their second encounter in the competition against Colombia on 19 June at the Stade Lyon.
On the lower deck of the wagon, hired exclusively for the team, coach Mick Waitt sat among other coaches and officials watching a copy of the France-Colombia match on his laptop, while occasionally turning away and seemingly reflecting on the last night’s performance.
“These Colombians are going to be tough,” he says as he pauses the game in the second half with the South Americans pushing hard for an equaliser to Thierry Henry’s first half penalty.
Upstairs the mood is sombre. Players, slumped in their seats, stare out the windows as the train whizzes across the French countryside and contemplate what might have been.
“We didn’t do ourselves justice so all the guys are disappointed,” says goalkeeper Mike Utting, who plays his football for Kingz – the Kiwi team in the Australian league. “We went into the match looking for a result. In Mexico four years ago, there was the feeling that we were making up the numbers. But at this tournament it was different, we really wanted to make an impression and put New Zealand on the world footballing map.”
Aaron Lines, who plays his club football in Poland for Ruch Chorzow, was gazing intently at Le Monde and an article on David Beckham and the world’s highest earning footballers. While fluent in German, Lines’ French barely stretches beyond bonjour. Instead his eyes are glued to the pictures of Ronaldo, Raul, Figo and David Beckham and the astronomical salary figures they are able to command.
For Lines, a talented midfielder, yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) defeat was one of the few remaining opportunities to attract a big club. His club have told him they will not renew his contract next season and, like many of his team-mates, the Confederations Cup represents a shop window for him to impress.
“My move to Poland came about because I put in a good performance for New Zealand against them nine months ago,” he states. “But we play so little international football that it’s difficult to get noticed. This tournament means everything to me and to everyone here. It is the greatest honour to play for your country.”
With a melancholic expression, the 26-year-old turns his thoughts to the previous day’s match.“Nobody quite understands what went wrong. That’s taking nothing away from Japan, who are a skilful and talented side, but we just didn’t play up to scratch,” he confesses. “We were well prepared going into the tournament, drawing in Scotland and losing a bit unluckily to the US, so we thought we had a shout. We just want to put things right now against Colombia.”
As the train speeds towards their next destination, the players’ spirits pick up. A card game commences, there are more laughs as others listen to a New Zealand comedian cracking jokes while, at the back, a group grin at a laptop showing the American comedy show Seinfeld. All pretty normal except for Chris Jackson, who is drawing perfect circles on a scrap of paper.
“It helps me relax,” he says shrugging his shoulders.
If the All Whites, number 10 gets the nod against Colombia to display his creative talent on the field, it might change the mood on the train back to Paris for the final group fixture against France.