New Zealand hoping it will be alright on the night

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert is confident that his players will not be struck by first night nerves as they seek to make World Cup history against Slovakia on Tuesday.

Rustenburg: New Zealand coach
Ricki Herbert is confident that his players will not be struck
by first night nerves as they seek to make World Cup history
against Slovakia on Tuesday.

The All Whites are appearing in the finals for only the
second time and, having lost all three matches in Spain in
1982, are still looking for a first point on football`s
biggest stage.

"There are a few nerves, a sense of anticipation,"
admitted Herbert. "But that is not a bad thing. The players
are very focused on what they have to do."

Regarded as one of the weakest squads in the tournament,
New Zealand will have their work cut out containing a talented
Slovakia side that is making its first appearance in the
finals as an independent nation.

But a surprise friendly win over Serbia in the build-up
to the tournament was proof that Herbert`s squad can get the
better of more technically gifted opponents.

Captain Ryan Nelsen, who also skippers Blackburn in the
English Premier League and is New Zealand`s best-known player
internationally, said he and his team-mates were itching to
get going.

"There is only so much training and preparation work you
can do. The country`s buzzing and we just want to get started
and be part of it," he said.

Herbert`s options have been restricted by the loss of
bustling midfielder Tim Brown, who will not be risked against
the Slovakians as he completes his recovery from shoulder
surgery at the end of May but should be available for the
second group game against Italy.

In Brown`s absence, defender Ivan Vicelich is expected to
bolster central midfield and will share responsibility for
keeping tabs on Slovakia`s captain and playmaker, Marek
Hamsik, with fellow veteran Simon Elliott.

"Ivan certainly doesn`t lack experience and that might be
what we need in this game, someone who is calm and patient on
the ball," Herbert said.

"He is a strong influence in the team and, with Ryan at
the back, it gives us experience through the spine."

Slovakia, who qualified by topping a group that included
highly-rated neighbours the Czech Republic and fellow
qualifiers Slovenia, go into the match quietly confident of
starting their campaign with a win, according to midfielder
Vladimir Weiss.

"We saw the New Zealanders play against Serbia," the
Manchester City player said. "We know what we can expect from
them but I believe the match will turn out as we all want."

Weiss is the son of the Slovakia coach, also called

If, as is expected, Weiss starts, he will become the
sixth player to play under his coach father at a World Cup.

He follows Uruguay`s Milton Viera (1966), Italian
defender Paolo Maldini (2002), Niko Kranjcar of Croatia
(2002), Serbia and Montenegro`s Dusan Petkovic (2006) and
Michael Bradley, who featured in the United States opener here
against England with father Bob in the dugout.

As well as Hamsik, the dangermen for Slovakia are striker
Stanislav Sestak, who plays in the Bundesliga for VfL Bochum,
and Miroslav Stoch, a winger who has just been sold by Chelsea
to Turkish giants Fenerbahce after a succesful season on loan
at Dutch champions FC Twente.

Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik pulls the strings for
Slovakia in midfield and is also their most likely source of
goals. At 22, he is being tipped as a major star and has been
watched by a string of top clubs, including Manchester United.

In the likely absence of New Zealand`s vice-captain Tim
Brown, primary responsibility for stopping him will fall to
Simon Elliott with support from Ivan Vicelich, a defender who
will stiffen the All Whites midfield.

Elliott will hope to make his experience count but 90
minutes chasing Hamsik at an altitude of 1500m could make him
feel every one of his 36 years.

Bureau Report