Michael Boxall featured prominently for New Zealand at Russia 2017
The All Whites face Solomon Islands this week in the OFC World Cup play-off
Boxall says New Zealand "100 per cent" expect to beat the Melanesians
It has been a busy year for New Zealand. After securing their place in the Oceania zone qualifying play-off for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in March, Anthony Hudson’s side got to visit the host nation at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup.
It was an invaluable experience for the All Whites, who now re-focus on their bid to return to Russia next year. The Kiwis embark on a crucial two-leg showdown with Solomon Islands for a spot in an intercontinental play-off against the fifth-place finisher in South American qualifying in November. New Zealand host their Pacific Island opponents in the first leg on 1 September before travelling to the Solomon Islands for the decisive second leg four days later.
For defender Michael Boxall, only one outcome will suffice. “We expect ourselves to win these games 100 per cent, and with the talent we have, there’s no reason why we shouldn't wrap things up in the first leg at home and leave nothing in doubt,” he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “When we last played in the Nations Cup last year, they have since added a European to their coaching staff and that has made them a lot more organised. They are tough to break down, and going forward, they have a couple of talented live-wire players that we do have to watch out for.”
The 29-year-old sees no issues in playing Friday’s first leg at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium. “I think it’s preferable that we play the first leg at home,” Boxall said. “For our national team, we don’t get to play in front of our home fans too often, so the chances that we do, we have to make the most of them and give our fans something to cheer about. I think the added excitement and even the pressure of playing in front of our home fans should only help us. For me, the chance to play in front of my friends and family in Auckland is a moment I’m really going to look forward to.”
Building on Russia 2017 Under the guidance of Hudson, New Zealand have become a more competitive outfit. Despite finishing bottom of Group A at the Confederations Cup, the All Whites earned plenty of respect for their battling spirit against Russia, Mexico and Portugal.
Boxall, who started all three of New Zealand’s matches at Russia 2017, believes the Confederations Cup has provided his side with invaluable experience of Russia, should they succeed in returning there in 2018.
“If you’ve played somewhere before that’s familiar to you, then the second time around it becomes much easier, especially because with New Zealand, we have a fairly young team,” Boxall said. “I think that experience against some of the better players are not challenges we get presented with too often because we’re in Oceania, so in one sense, it’s good to experience that and hopefully, it puts us in good stead to get there again next year.”
Back in MLS Shortly after the Confederations Cup campaign, Boxall returned to Major League Soccer (MLS) when he signed for expansion club Minnesota United in early July. It brings the centre-back’s club career full circle, as he made his professional debut with a previous MLS expansion side in Vancouver Whitecaps back in 2011. A spell at home in New Zealand with A-League outfit Wellington Phoenix followed, before his career took him to South Africa and a stint with SuperSport United.
Boxall hopes his footballing travels will be an asset in the American Midwest. “After a few years and playing in a few different countries, you just get better experience of what it takes to win at that level,” he said. “I absolutely enjoyed my time in Vancouver and I’ve enjoyed every stop on the way. Now I’m looking to make the stop in Minnesota a very memorable one as well.”