Friday 23 March 2018

Nelson hopes it will be All White on opening night

Slovakia and New Zealand, two World Cup outsiders, are keen to show they won't be pushovers in South Africa when they meet in their Group F opener today.

Slovakia are playing in their first international tournament as an independent nation since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. New Zealand, meanwhile, are returning to the World Cup finals for the first time since their 1982 debut.

But All Whites captain and Blackburn defender Ryan Nelsen says his team's warm-up games demonstrated they have the talent to test their group opponents, who also include Italy and Paraguay.

"We've proved we can be competitive," Nelsen said, looking back on a recent 1-0 win over Serbia, who are ranked No 15 in the world. "We're a very good team. It's as simple as that."


New Zealand can also call on Middlesbrough striker Chris Killen, Plymouth striker Rory Fallon, and Ipswich's Tommy Smith. They also have Shane Smeltz, who was top scorer in the Australian A-League last season.

"We've proven that we have been more than competitive," said coach Ricki Herbert, a New Zealand defender at Spain '82.

Herbert will play veteran defender Ivan Vicelich in midfield as Tim Brown recovers from a fractured shoulder that could keep him out of the tournament.

Slovakia pipped the Czech Republic and Poland to World Cup qualification but will be without midfielder Miroslav Karhan (33) for the opener as he has an Achilles tendon injury.

Strikers Filip Holosko and Robert Vittek are also regaining match fitness, so Sparta Prague midfielder Juraj Kucka (23) may feature.

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is back in training after breaking his foot in February and captain Marek Hamsik of Napoli returns after a muscle injury.

Irish Independent

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