As captain of the New Zealand squad and the All Whites highest-profile player, Ryan Nelsen is determined to do all he can to lead his team-mates to victory over Bahrain in Wellington on 14 November. The Blackburn Rovers defender and former OFC Player of the Year was only four years old the last (and only) time his country qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ back in 1982, when Ricki Herbert, the team's current coach, was an integral member of the side.
The second leg of the play-off is being described as the most important game to be played on New Zealand soil and will be played in front of a capacity crowd of over 35,000 at Wellington's Westpac Stadium. The ‘Cake Tin', as it is affectionately known as by the locals, is sure to provide plenty of passionate support for the Kiwis, which Nelsen believes could be crucial in helping the team reach South Africa.
The 32-year-old also made time to talk to FIFA.com about the current form of his club side, their high-profile manager Sam Allardyce and his new team-mate Michel Salgado.
FIFA.com: You're 90 minutes from the FIFA World Cup - how does that feel? Ryan Nelsen:It's very exciting to be in this position and we're in that position because of a fantastic result in Bahrain. It's a ‘do-or-die, winner takes all' match - and as a footballer it can't get any better than that.
Football's all about taking chances - how determined are the squad to make the most of this one?Of course we're determined, but Bahrain will be thinking the exact same thing. You don't have many opportunities in your career when you're a win away from making the biggest sporting event in the world. It's tremendously exciting.
*Unfortunately you missed the FIFA Confederations Cup through injury, but now that you're back among the squad, have you noticed that they've grown from the experience? *Yes they have, but then again, I expected it. When you go to a tournament like that and when you play quality opposition, you have to gain something from it. I think there were a few harsh lessons learned from the losses [against Spain and South Africa], but the draw against Iraq made gave the squad a self-belief that we are able to compete against the best teams in the world.
Is there anything to fear from Bahrain?Of course, they're the fifth best team in Asia and there are some fantastic teams in Asia, so obviously they are favourites to win the game. All the pressure is on them. They've got incredible resources and they've played over 20 games together, so we're just hoping that we can spoil their party.
How much of an advantage will it be playing at home - and how much are you a believer that a passionate crowd act as a ‘12th man'?It is an advantage, especially as we've got quite a few players in the squad who play regularly at the Westpac Stadium. They should know every blade of grass on the pitch and that should help them. Plus, there's nothing like home comforts. I'm looking forward to getting home, seeing the family and making them proud.It would be a massive thing if we qualified in terms of the growth of the sport in the country. There's so much interest in football, but reaching South Africa would take things to another level. We realise what's at stake - and that's the fun part of it.
They're the fifth best team in Asia and there are some fantastic teams in Asia, so obviously they are favourites to win the game. All the pressure is on them.
You were only four in 1982, but do you remember anything from the All Whites' appearance at Spain 1982?
I remember my dad waking me up at some awful hour of the morning to watch some game that I don't even remember! I've got a two-year old son, so if I'm playing in South Africa I might get my wife to get him up to watch me, just for the irony of it!
Turning to club matters, it's been a strange start to the season for Blackburn Rovers. You've had some good results, especially against Aston Villa and Burnley, but you're in the bottom three. How would you assess your start?If you looked at our first ten fixtures, they were some of the hardest in the whole league. We've played some really difficult away games. It's not a case of ‘the season starts now', but our next ten games are ones that we're looking to take points from. They're going to be really crucial in setting the tone for our season. I honestly think that we're going to start working our way up the table now.
Your manager Sam Allardyce is still trying to make his mark on the club. With the likes of Fernando Hierro, Jay-Jay Okocha and Hidetoshi Nakata fans of his style of management, we'd like to know what makes him different and what he's bringing to the club?I think his greatest quality is his honesty. He's up front with you and people respect that in football. There's a lot of pressures and people can talk behind your back, but he wants you to know something - he'll tell it straight to your face! It's refreshing when you have that kind of honesty.
The footballing world sat up when he brought Michel Salgado to Ewood Park; how have you enjoyed training and playing with him?First of all, he's a fantastic guy. If you take away his playing ability and all the successes he's achieved, he's simply one of life's good people. When you play for Blackburn, that's important. We're a very homely club and you've got to have the right character and a will to work hard. Fortunately for us, he fits that description perfectly.