New Zealand are just four days away from ending a 28-year wait to appear at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and the Kiwis are champing at the bit to take the field after weeks of preparation.
When New Zealand face Slovakia on Tuesday it will be exactly 28 years to the day since the All Whites first took the field in their opening match at the 1982 FIFA World Cup against Scotland. Now after three weeks in camp and internationals against Australia, Serbia, Slovenia and Chile, the Kiwis are primed to resume their place on the world’s greatest stage.
“I can’t wait for it to start,” said New Zealand’s tall striker Chris Killen, speaking exclusively to FIFA. "It’s just crept up on us quite quickly now and me and all the boys can’t wait to get going.”
“The character of the boys is brilliant. Things come up along the way and we seem to just keep going which is great and... hopefully we’ll just keep going and prove people wrong.”
Middlesbrough-man Killen has long been a regular member of the All Whites set-up but defender Ben Sigmund is set to fulfil a remarkable career turnaround should he receive the nod from Ricki Herbert during the tournament. After being the only player to feature in all eight qualifying matches, and having captained the team in one of those matches, Sigmund seems sure to see some game time.
The 29-year-old made his international debut as a substitute in August 2000 against Oman, and didn't earn a second cap until 2007. The intervening years saw were not always successful with Sigmund considering hanging up his boots for good at one stage.
“I nearly gave up football five years ago, and for me to stand here and be involved in the World Cup is pretty special,” said Sigmund, speaking exclusively to FIFA. “I always think ‘imagine if I didn’t come back and play football’. For me it’s that little bit extra special, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
“After what I’ve been through and, to play all those games right through to the World Cup is... a massive achievement for me, and it’s something I’ll be proud of. But it’d be nice to go to that next step and say that I’ve played at the World Cup in that first game.
“I think the focus has been about our shape, and making sure we’re organised. If we’re well organized then we’re going to break teams down and they are not going to break us down.
“Making sure that the squad is fully fit (has been important), and we’ve done that. And I think we’re in a good spot, and ready for this game.”
New Zealand face Slovakia in Rustenburg, before completing their Group F schedule against world champions Italy on 20 June in Nelspruit, and then against Paraguay four days later in Polokwane.