Smeltz frustrated with early exit
At the end of the 2-0 defeat by hosts South Africa on 17 June, Shane Smeltz's face said it all. The attacker was last out of the dressing room and cut a dejected figure as he stepped on to the coach in the knowledge that his team would be going no further in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Later, in a slightly more relaxed frame of mind, the Gold Coast United player was making no excuses for his side's poor showing. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Smeltz made it clear that he was frustrated and unhappy with the way things had turned out for New Zealand in South Africa 2009.
"We needed to go as long as possible without conceding," he said, when quizzed on New Zealand's tactics for Wednesday's match. "We then had to put them under pressure, as they were the home team and were expected to score, so the longer it remained scoreless, the more we could control the game.
"But they scored early, which settled their nerves, and from then on we didn't do anything to get back into the match and they were the better side. It's frustrating to have shipped two goals similar to the ones against Spain. We played really badly, we leaked two goals and didn't score any. We went into the game with high hopes, but it turned out to be a very difficult and frustrating night."
While the match statistics show that Smeltz covered more ground that any of his team-mates, running almost 11 kilometres over the 90 minutes, all the Kiwis had to show for their efforts was a solitary shot on goal. Asked whether he received enough support, he responded openly: "I can't hide the fact that we let ourselves down, but how each player deals with that depends on him. I'm not going to say that I had a good game, or anything close - in fact none of us played well. We need to be fully aware that it was a terrible performance."
Playing for pride
Smeltz had said before Wednesday's encounter that for New Zealand, the tournament began with the South Africa match. Having been beaten, his team now stand no chance of making the semi-finals, so what motivation can there be for their final group game against Iraq?
"Our aim is to salvage something from this tournament," he said. We've missed our last chance to progress any further, so we'll just have to play for pride. We have one game left and we'll try to get a good result, that's all we can do," he continued.
While critical of his own team, Smeltz was also largely unimpressed by Iraq's performance against Spain. "They got a good result, although I thought they were very defensive, and were lucky not to concede more goals. They attacked a bit more at the end, although they never looked like equalising. To be honest, as a spectacle it wasn't great, but I'm sure that Iraq will play very differently against us."
So, is the scene set for New Zealand to claim at least a point against the Asian champions and thus avoid going home empty-handed? "I don't know, before thinking about that we have to sit down and analyse the match against South Africa. We made a lot of mistakes, which we'll have to try to correct. I hope we can put in a much-improved performance and get a result which will give us a boost for the future," he concluded.