Mexico, New Zealand meet in warm-up
World Cup veterans Rafael Marquez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco will lead Mexico against New Zealand tonight in a friendly international that will serve as a important 2010 FIFA World Cup™ preparation for both.
For Mexico the match is the second in a series of six friendlies in the United States as they prepare to open their South Africa 2010 campaign against the host nation on 11 June. Their first-round group also includes France and Uruguay.
"I think this is the moment for us to do something big, something historic," said defender Marquez, who says the 2010 World Cup will be his last. "We have players with lots of experience and young people who have the hunger to win."
Marquez, 31, played in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups and helped Barcelona become the first Spanish team to win the UEFA Champions League, Spanish first division and Copa del Rey titles in one season. Blanco is second in career international goals for Mexico with 37.
Joining the veterans in the squad for the match at the Rose Bowl are Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, midfielders Andres Guardado from Deportivo La Coruna in Spain and Giovani Dos Santos from Turkey's Galatasaray, plus Guadalajara forward Javier Hernandez, who leads Mexico's first division in scoring with eight goals in seven matches.
"This is the only game on a FIFA date when we'd all be available," said Guardado, who injured a leg last month. "I'm still not 100 per cent yet but for me, it's important to be here."
New Zealand, who will be playing in just their second FIFA World Cup, will take on Mexico without defenders Ryan Nelsen and Ivan Vicelich. Nelsen, the team captain, suffered a hyperextended knee in Blackburn Rovers' 3-0 English premiership win over Bolton Wanderers in February. Vicelich is suspended.
Leading New Zealand will be forward Rory Fallon, who plays for Plymouth Argyle in England's second division. Three members of the New Zealand squad have USA links: defender Andrew Boyens plays for Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls, midfielder Simon Elliott plays for MLS club San Jose, and Tony Lochhead attended the University of California at Santa Barbara.
After playing Mexico, New Zealand will travel to Europe in late May for further warm-ups against Serbia and Slovenia. In the first round of the FIFA World Cup they are drawn in Group F with defending champions Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay.