Soccer: First it's Slovakia, then the champs

The All Whites have landed a date with defending champions Italy at next year's World Cup finals in South Africa.

Coach Ricki Herbert declared himself "reasonably pleased" with yesterday's draw, co-hosted by Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron, which also pitted his side against Paraguay and Slovakia.

"You can never say that any game for us is going to be easy at a World Cup but it's not too bad," he said. "It could have been worse, it could have been better.

"The quality of Italy speaks for itself - they are defending world champions. Slovakia and Paraguay are two big obstacles, very different from New Zealand, but we can look forward with some confidence."

New Zealand are ranked 77 in the world - third lowest of the 32 teams involved. They will take confidence that they rattled Italy in a 4-3 friendly defeat this year.

They will kick off their campaign against 34th-ranked Slovakia in Rustenburg on June 16.

Their next game is against Italy in Nelspruit on June 21, then 30th-ranked Paraguay in Polokwane on June 25. All three games will be played at altitude on the high veldt.

Hosts South Africa open the tournament against Mexico in Johannesburg on June 12.

Herbert had to watch the draw on TV because of his commitments with Wellington Phoenix. "I'm just pleased it's done. We are off to a World Cup. It's brilliant."

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

- Herald on Sunday

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