Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Dream of Brazil spurs forwarder

Kenny Cunningham needs to make his mark with the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
Kenny Cunningham needs to make his mark with the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

Everyone within the Wellington Phoenix is desperate to turn their season around but forward Kenny Cunningham has greater reason than most.

After Friday's 4-2 loss in Perth, described by coach Ernie Merrick as their "worst performance of the season", the Phoenix remain winless and near the bottom of the A-League table. There is no obvious salvation at hand, with games against Brisbane, Central Coast and Sydney next.

Aside from needing to make a good impression in his first A League season, the Costa Rican international is dreaming of next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Los Ticos were drawn in Group D yesterday, with mouth-watering fixtures against Uruguay, England and Italy in prospect next June. Cunningham was involved during the friendly against Australia but knows his chances of selection are contingent on a good club season.

"It is the dream of every player in the world to go to a World Cup," Cunningham told the Herald on Sunday.

"My dream is very clear and every single day I work for that. I want to represent my country in Brazil. But I have to play and play well to make the coaches' list."

Merrick said after the Perth loss he may move to bring in new talent next month: "We just need to strengthen our depth. It will be good to sign another player in the January window - someone who can score goals - because I seem to be putting on young players who are not quite ready for it yet.Obviously there's a concern there, but I still think we'll make the finals."

Cunningham remains positive about this season, despite four draws and four losses to start the campaign.

"I hope we can start winning soon," he says. "In most games we have played well and we haven't had a lot of luck.

"We just have to persevere. [The coach] is changing our style of play - everybody is noticing that it is different from previous years - it is going to pay off in the long run."

The 28-year-old arrived in Wellington on the recommendation of compatriot Carlos Hernandez, who made him aware the club was looking for a pacy flank player.

New Zealand is Cunningham's third base in the last three years. A stint in Japan was followed by a season with The Strongest in Bolivia. Neither experience was memorable.

"I didn't want to stay in Japan - the language was very difficult and I didn't really like the food," says Cunningham. "I played well in Bolivia but the altitude [he lived in the capital La Paz, an elevation of more than 4000m) was so hard. It was difficult to breathe and very hard to get used to."

The slightly built Cunningham (1.72m, 70kg) has shown potential but has yet to deliver fully. He came on against Sydney FC two weeks ago and almost changed the game, scoring a late equaliser and being inches away from another, before Sydney's last gasp winner.

He can score goals (he scored 15 times in his final two seasons in Costa Rica's First Division) but needs to be a provider for the Phoenix. Cunningham has raw pace and a high work rate (in the national team his nickname is El Diablo de Tasmania, the Tasmanian Devil, for his tendency to scurry ) but has yet to stamp his class on the A League.

"All the teams are very competitive and it's a strong league," says Cunningham. "I never think about being a star. I work for the team and if we all work together the star will be the Phoenix."

- Herald on Sunday

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