Kiwi Killen a big game hunter
© Foto-net

It is not difficult to spot the symbolism in New Zealand setting up base in the heart of a South African game park. The All Whites are, after all, about to find themselves in the midst of some of the beautiful game's biggest beasts at a particularly star-studded FIFA Confederations Cup.

Though the Kiwis' status as outsiders liberates them from expectation, Chris Killen - one of their most experienced and influential players - is adamant that he and his team-mates have not come as tourists, and have no intentions of accepting that defeat is inevitable. "It's vital we don't go out there just looking to enjoy the occasion," he told FIFA.com. "We need to be completely focused and determined to give a good account of ourselves."

All the same, the Celtic striker concedes that it would be wasteful not to indulge in some of South Africa's more unique attractions. "We're in an incredible location here," he enthused. "Apparently if you get up early enough, you'll see elephants walking right past your window, so that's the first thing I'll be looking out for tomorrow. We actually went out on a safari the other day - that was fantastic - and hopefully we can do a bit more of that kind of thing before we leave. It's not often you get to stay in a place like this after all."

Right now, Torres and Villa are the best bar none as far as I'm concerned.
Chris Killen

Though lions were conspicuous by their absence during the All Whites' journey into the wild, Killen and Co know only too well that two of the world's foremost predators await them in Sunday's showdown with Spain. Yet although he admits to rating Fernando Torres and David Villa as the most formidable strike partnership in football, Killen is equally aware of the potential rewards should New Zealand succeed in keeping them subdued.

"Right now, Torres and Villa are the best bar none as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I really rate them that highly, and I imagine our defenders will be having a few nightmares about them before Sunday comes around! But everyone realises the opportunity a game like this offers us. A decent result against the number one team in the world would really put us on the map back home and that's something which is long overdue. We can't just be happy to be the best in Oceania and expect to make any inroads in terms of recognition. We need to be proving ourselves on stages like this one."

When Killen warns against missing the kind of opportunity South Africa 2009 presents, he is speaking from bitter experience. The 27-year-old was, after all, a member of the All Whites squad who left the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2003 with a humbling record that showed three successive defeats and a goal difference of minus-ten.

"I didn't enjoy my first Confederations Cup at all to be honest," he admitted. "There were a few things going on behind the scenes that affected the team and, for me, we just didn't prepare well enough. I'm encouraged by what I see this time in that respect.

A decent result against the number one team in the world would really put us on the map back home and that's something which is long overdue.
Chris Killen

"We have a lot of good young kids coming through at the moment and this tournament will be a great experience for them because it's one of the rare occasions when this team is taken outside our comfort zone. We have a lot of amateur players in our team and I've been more fortunate in what I've experienced in my career, but I can certainly tell you it's every bit as exciting for me as it is for them."

For Killen, merely taking to the field will be a thrill given the year he has just endured at club level. Starting a game would be an even greater treat for a player whose playing time this season - two substitute appearances at Celtic followed by another three on loan at Norwich City - amounted to a measly 83 minutes.

"I'm dying to get out there," he admitted. "It's been a horrible season for me but, all going well, it could all change for the better over the next week or so. It's an important summer for me in many respects and, if I play well here, there's every possibility it could prove to be a turning point."