Outsiders out to prove point
RUSTENBURG – Slovakia and New Zealand, two World Cup outsiders, are keen to show they won’t be easy prey in South Africa when they meet in their Group F opener today.
Slovakia are in their first international tournament as an independent nation since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
New Zealand are returning to the World Cup stage for the first time since their debut appearance in 1982.
But New Zealand captain and central defender Ryan Nelsen, who plays for Blackburn in the English Premier League, insists his country’s football has grown in stature since then. Five others in the squad also play in England, adding experience they hope can lift their team to another level.
“We are not wet behind the ears,” Nelsen said. “The guys are confident, we’ve got strikers who are very good and play in good leagues, the defenders as well, and the same for the midfielders.”
Slovakia, too, can point to an impressive record in qualifying, when they upset group favourites Czech Republic and Poland, as evidence of their chances of competing well in South Africa.
“We’re going to play good football and to fight for a place in the second round,” Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said after their 3-0 win over Costa Rica in a warm-up game.
Even so, the Slovaks and Kiwis can’t match the pedigree of their Group F adversaries. They are up against Italy, the defending champions, and Paraguay, who are playing at their eighth World Cup.