Chris Rattue at the World Cup

Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Chris Rattue: NZ gets taste of European class

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All Whites midfielder Leo Bertos practices his free kicks for tonight's clash with Slovakia. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Whites midfielder Leo Bertos practices his free kicks for tonight's clash with Slovakia. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Germany's crushing victory over Australia will have sounded a warning about the All Whites' prospects in their opening World Cup match tonight.

The All Whites start their Group F campaign against Slovakia, not a team of big names, but still massive favourites in this game.

All Whites' captain Ryan Nelsen has claimed his side can win, and that there is less pressure on them than in the qualifying games against Bahrain.

But the players may find it different once they are out on the ground at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium at Rustenburg.

The world is not only watching - even if New Zealand v Slovakia is not a prime attraction - but much of it is also expecting the All Whites to be the worst team at this tournament, although Australia are now strong contenders for that unwanted title.

The flashes of quality these All Whites are capable of, and their ability to absorb pressure when Nelsen is marshalling the troops, may surprise the doubters. The game in Durban has not settled the nerves however.

Germany, who were stunning, won 4-0 and it could have been by a lot more against an awful Australian side, who pipped the All Whites in Melbourne last month.

The Durban contest was ruined in the 56th minute by the ridiculous sending off of Australia's star turn Tim Cahill, with the score at 2-0.

However, there was already enough evidence to indicate the gap between Australasian and European teams. The way Germany was able to take advantage of Cahill's dismissal only hammered home the point.

Slovakia now await the All Whites and Ricki Herbert's men may need every ounce of fortune and concentration to avoid a similar fate.

So much of the All Whites' hopes are tied up in this game, with world champions Italy and the potentially dangerous Paraguay to follow.

A draw in Rustenburg would be cause for celebration and a win would have New Zealand in raptures.

Slovakia have a couple of top-drawer players, especially Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, who are backed by others from good-quality leagues. Hamsik is tipped as one of the rising young stars capable of making a big impression in South Africa, and is said to have been on Manchester United's radar.

New Zealand will probably be on the back foot tonight, yet still with the potential to create the odd chance, especially by the aerial route.

The good news is that New Zealand have consistently made chances against very good sides. Whether they take them will tell the story tonight.

Part of the threat should come from two young wide players, Miroslav Stoch - coming back from injury - and Vladimir Weiss. Coach Vladimir Weiss snr has promised to attack, with Stanislav Sestak completing the scoring threat.

The 20-year-olds, with some English Premier League experience, have the speed to severely test the All Whites.

Herbert said: "Before we came away I said we could play the best we've ever done and lose all three matches.

"But I just think we're capable, it's first up ... anything's possible."

Nelsen was confident and realistic.

"I think this team is a wee bit different from most NZ teams. We've got a lot of experience amongst the squad. Things don't kind of daunt you as much as they used to," he said.

"We're not that wet behind the ears. The guys are confident. We've got strikers who are really good and playing in good leagues. We've got defenders as well and midfielders the same. Confidence will be there, come game time, that we can deliver.

"We know what we're going to be up against, and they'll have seen us probably on video. Come game time, you've just got to hope everything goes to plan.

"We just want to make the country proud and give a good account of ourselves.

"I've always said we could play three unbelievable games, play out of our skins and lose all three.

"That's life in this cup. But we've kind of proved it in the last few weeks if we get it right on our day and they're a wee bit off, we can win ..."

The referee is Jerome Damon from South Africa.

- NZ Herald

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