Will New Zealand Punch Above Their Weight Class In Russia?
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History and Background
This will be New Zealand’s fourth ever presence in the Confederations Cup. A small island nation’s previous record hasn’t been so good, losing eight out of nine matches and only scoring twice. They will, however, hope to erase all the terrible memories and put on a good show against the three superior sides in the group.
The All Whites do possess an amazing record in one international football competition, which is the OFC Nations Cup where they have won five out of 10 times. They have also appeared twice in the World Cup, first in 1982 where they lost all three games, and then in 2010 — where they were the only undefeated team in the tournament having drawn all three matches.
The country’s tiny population of just 4.7 million people makes it difficult when choosing quality players. And other major sports such as cricket and rugby — where New Zealand are the current world champions — make it hard for the football team to compete with the rest of the world.
The All Whites will be managed by a young Englishman named Anthony Hudson. The 36-year-old, who was actually born in Seattle and has spent some time in America, first received a coaching job at the tender age of 27. He took over Real Maryland Monarchs in 2008, becoming the youngest professional head coach in the U.S at the time at any sport.
Hudson led the club, which had finished bottom of the table in 2008, to fifth place and a Playoffs spot at the end of the season. He was also nominated for the USL Second Division 2009 Coach of the Year Award. He then took up a job in coaching Tottenham Hotspur reserves team in 2010, and was praised by Harry Redknapp for being similar to Jose Mourinho, who Hudson would later spend time studying with in 2012.
The young manager also studied with Marcelo Bielsa in Athletic Bilbao, and his impressive knowledge in the game earned him a job with the Bahrain national team in 2013 — his first time coaching a senior international side.
In 2014, Hudson took over both New Zealand national team and the U-23 team. Under him, the All Whites have seen the lowest — dropping all the way down to 161st in May 2016. However, the manager has gotten them back on track and led them to the current ranking of 95th. It will be interesting to see how he fares going up against the three experienced and high level managers in the group.
New Zealand was given a huge blow when their captain and West Ham United center-back Winston Reid suffered a knee injury, ruling him out of the tournament. The team will have to heavily rely on Leeds United’s prolific striker Chris Wood, who scored an impressive 30 goals in 48 appearances this season.
Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith will be a rock at the back for the All Whites, while Marco Rojas, Ryan Thomas, and Kosta Barbarouses should give them a spark going forward. The 35-year-old Shane Smeltz, who is the all-time second top scorer for the national team with 24 goals, will also be there to give the much needed veteran presence in the dressing room.
Although their squad is nowhere near the quality of other three sides in the group, they can’t be completely brushed aside as football can be very unpredictable at times. With the players ready to give their all for the nation at an international stage, in addition to the current goal-scoring form of Wood, New Zealand might only need a chance or two to shock others.
They will likely frustrate the hosts Russia in the opening game, and might even take a point off of them. However, it is hard to imagine the All Whites giving any trouble to Portugal and Mexico —who has outscored them 14 to four in their previous meetings. Especially with the absence of Reid at the back, New Zealand is looking at nothing more than a bottom finish in the group.
6/17 — New Zealand vs Russia
6/21 — New Zealand vs Mexico
6/24 — New Zealand vs Portugal