Kiwis confident of avoiding Aussie fate
Although better known as a rugby nation, New Zealand's All Whites are relishing the spotlight and basking in a wave of support at home after reaching only their second World Cup.
"It's very humbling, it's very exciting," captain Ryan Nelsen told reporters ahead of their first Group F match against Slovakia on Tuesday.
However, one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament at 78th are determined to spring some surprises having lost all their group games at the 1982 tournament.
Asked if they would be happy just to put on a good show after an absence of 28 years, Nelsen said:
"We want to win. We have proved over the past four or five matches that we are very competitive."
Coach Ricki Herbert said a 1-0 warm-up victory over fellow finalists Serbia showed they deserved to be at the tournament and belied suggestions they were weak in their warm-ups.
"Did you see the games? No, obviously you didn't," he asked one reporter. "We were really pleased to beat Serbia away, a top 15 ranked side ... I think we are in a very good space."
Australia snatched a 2-1 friendly win over New Zelaand with a late goal, while the All Whites lost 3-1 to Slovenia and 2-0 to Chile in what was very much a practice match.
Herbert said the team had played well to qualify and were not here just to make up the numbers.
"The current group of players have worked very well to bring the nation back to a World Cup," he said.
Nelsen, who captains Blackburn Rovers in England's Premier League, said he was looking forward to a tough contest against a well organised Slovakia unit.
"We know after playing Serbia and Slovenia that they (Slovakia) will be very similar. They are strong, very disciplined, very organised.
"We've got a lot of respect for what they did in qualifying and their team, all round, is very solid," he said.
"They are one of those teams that are going to be very awkward to play against, kind of like ourselves."
Nelsen said he felt for Australia but suggested he would not lose sleep over the 4-0 drubbing handed out to the more fancied Antipodean side by Germany.
"I've got a lot of friends in the Australian team so it kind of hurts a wee bit but the Kiwi always comes out of you," he said. "I shed some crocodile tears, I think."