Melbourne: Kiwi fans daubed in black came out in droves on Saturday to support New Zealand on the eve of their team`s first World Cup final, against fierce rivals Australia in Melbourne.
Fans gathered around the nets outside the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground arena to get a glimpse of their heroes training under cool cloudy skies.
According to government statistics there are about 650,000 New Zealand citizens living in Australia, which is around 15 percent of the population of New Zealand.
The huge diaspora of Kiwis residing in Australia means there is passionate support for their rugby and cricket teams whenever they cross the Tasman to take on the greater-resourced `big brother`.
There was a brisk trade inside the merchandising tent outside the ground with supporters, predominantly New Zealanders, snapping up playing shirts, flags and caps for Sunday`s final which is expected to draw an 80,000-90,000 crowd.
Australia, bidding for a fifth title, remain resolutely confident of another success in a World Cup final, particularly at home, and Melbourne`s Herald Sun newspaper Saturday ran a triumphalist piece headlined: "New Zealand won`t win and here`s why."
But Kiwi journalist Dylan Cleaver got his own back in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, contrasting levels of support for Australia and New Zealand`s semi-final wins in Sydney and Auckland respectively.
"If there had been more than one Australian to 10 Indians in the crowd I`m sure there would have been a few signs of life in the place," he wrote.
"Things got a bit rowdy here at Eden Park on Tuesday when Grant Elliott hit a six to win off the penultimate ball (against South Africa). The crowd went nuts. People looked like they cared."
But the same page saw one of the paper`s regular columnists, Richard Hinds, deliver several jibes as well.
"Oddly some of our mild-mannered Australian players have been accused of sledging. We promise they will not resort to any tired old jokes," Hinds wrote.
"You know, the ones about how your anthem pleads with God to "defend New Zealand" because no reputable lawyer would do so. Or how staging Miss New Zealand only involves putting up a mirror ball in a shearing shed.
"But amidst all the banter, there was evidence of deep mutual respect between Australia captain Michael Clarke and New Zealand counterpart Brendon McCullum as they chatted away during a photo opportunity with the World Cup trophy surrounded by the noise of whirring cameras.
Asked what they had said, Clarke replied: "I think I`ll keep that between Brendon and I, but the main message from both of us was we wish each other all the best."
Clarke added he was grateful for the support shown by McCullum and the New Zealand team following the passing of Australia batsman Phillip Hughes, aged just 25, who died after being struck on the back of a head by a bouncer in a domestic match in November.
"I have a great relationship with Brendon," said Clarke. "I`ll always be grateful for the way he and his team respected the Hughes tragedy and respected Phillip`s family, so that`s probably brought us closer together."
Despite defending champions India`s semi-final loss to Australia, a large number of India`s travelling cricket media, estimated at 30, are staying on for the final, making for a packed press box on Sunday.
Meanwhile, ticket-less supporters will be able to watch the match on a giant screen at the fan zone near the MCG on the banks of Melbourne`s Yarra River.
There will also be a `Go Gold` march for Australian supporters to the MCG before the game.