Michael Brown at the World Cup

Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Soccer: All Whites' training cut short by smoke

Tony Lochhead tries to block out the smoke which disrupted the All Whites’ first training session in South Africa today. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Tony Lochhead tries to block out the smoke which disrupted the All Whites’ first training session in South Africa today. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's hard to imagine any All White as a smoker but the players quite literally got a taste of what it would be like during their first training run this morning (NZT).

They very nearly cancelled their first training session since arriving in South Africa for the World Cup because of thick smoke that wafted across their training venue in Daveyton, a township on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg.

The smoke made it difficult to see from one side of the stadium to the other - not quite as bad as the 2006 Super 14 final between the Crusaders and Hurricanes - which made it extremely unpleasant. It was particularly bad when the players arrived around 6pm local time, as people cooked dinner and lit their fires as the temperature plummeted outside.

Serious thought was given to cancelling training but coach Ricki Herbert and captain Ryan Nelsen, after consultation with the medical staff, decided to proceed with a light session. A close eye was kept on midielder Simon Elliott and defender Andy Boyens, who are both asthmatics.

"[I'm not a smoker but] I am now," defender Ben Sigmund joked. "Menthol light. It's tough but it's just the situation we have do deal with. We just wanted to do some ball work and get the legs going after such a big flight. I think tomorrow will be a different story."

New Zealand will train at mid-morning tomorrow, and aren't likely to train in the early evening again to avoid the worst of the smoke.

"It's a bit hard to breathe with all the smoke in the atmosphere but we weren't out there too long tonight," Leo Bertos said. "We were pretty cautious because of what it can do to you so it was just about stretching the legs a bit.

"It's disappointing, personally, but these things are out of our control. It would have been nice to get a proper hitout tonight but at least we could do something.

"You could tell [it was smoky] as we came in on the bus. You could taste it, breathe it on the bus. It's something that's a bit different for us and something else to adapt to on tour."

New Zealand could have few other complaints about the training venue they will use for the duration of the World Cup, although assistant coach Brian Turner wasn't happy to discover the movable goal posts hadn't yet been delivered.

The Sinaba Stadium in Daveyton underwent an extensive upgrade to bring it up to Fifa standard and was completed just a couple of weeks ago. Before then it was a gravel pitch with rundown facilities that used by a number of teams, including Benoni United who play in the division below South Africa's premier league.

The grass was like carpet and concrete stands immaculately clean and the contrast to what lay outside could hardly have been starker. Just over the stadium's back fence, children played football on a dusty, clay pitch with rusty posts as others gathered outside and blew on the ubiquitous vuvuzela (plastic horn) as they waited for a glimpse of the New Zealand team.

South Africans are eager to know if visitors think South Africa is ready for the World Cup and, on first glance, it seems to be the case. Fifa demand it.

But if there's one thing the world's footballing body can't do, it's stop people lighting their fires to cook dinner and keep warm. The World Cup is a big deal, but daily life is even bigger.

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