Michael Brown at the World Cup
Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Reality hits as All Whites land in Africa

By Michael Brown

Tony Lochhead (left) and Aaron Clapham get their bearings at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Tony Lochhead (left) and Aaron Clapham get their bearings at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The message on the side of the New Zealand team bus said it all: Kickin' it Kiwi Style.

The All Whites finally arrived in South Africa yesterday to introduce their brand of football to the World Cup.

Since their qualification against Bahrain in November it has always felt as if the tournament was somewhere down the track but yesterday it came into focus with their arrival from their training base in Austria.

But if they were left under any illusion about just how big this thing is, they needed only to look across the arrivals hall as Portugal, the Netherlands and Ghana, complete with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie and Sulley Muntari arrived at Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo Airport at much the same time.

Crowds of supporters had gathered at the airport to see the stars but they were largely disappointed as heavy security, something expected throughout the tournament, whisked them through the arrivals hall to their team buses.

There was less excitement about the All Whites' arrival from Europe but they, too, did it under heavy security.

Most of the players looked jaded and were merely looking forward to staying in one place for more than a few days. They have been on the road for 18 days, travelled more than 32,000km and played games against Australia (1-2), Serbia (1-0) and Slovenia (1-3).

"We've had some pretty good preparation in Europe but we're here now and into the real thing," Ricki Herbert said on arrival.

The players were due to have their first training session overnight, expected to be a light one because of the travel, before their final warm-up against Chile in Nelspruit on Thursday morning (NZT).

Herbert has said he will treat that match as little more than a training run, played over three 30-minute thirds, and will take the opportunity to give his established players a rest and others who haven't seen much game time since the All Whites went into camp some minutes on the pitch.

The World Cup kicks off on Saturday morning when hosts South Africa take on Mexico in the impressive-looking Soccer City. The All Whites play their first match against Slovakia on June 15.

The team reported themselves as fit and healthy, although a little tired after three games, a heavy training schedule and flights from Austria via Frankfurt and Dubai.

They have since checked in to their base at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate, a luxurious five- and six-star resort on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

- NZ Herald

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