Bahrain fly to New Zealand for play-off

SYDNEY - Bahrain's national team headed to New Zealand on Thursday for their 2010 World Cup playoff after wrapping up low-key preparations in Australia.

While New Zealand's players were given the full 'rock star' treatment ahead of the biggest match in their homeland for decades, the Bahrain team went about their business without fanfare in Sydney.

Bahrain are bidding to qualify for their first World Cup finals after coming agonisingly close four years ago, losing a two-leg playoff against Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 on aggregate.

"I am living this dream like any other Bahraini who wants to qualify for the World Cup for the first time," their coach Milan Macala told Australian television network SBS.

"If we make this dream come true, it will be a big achievement for this tiny kingdom and will help Bahrain advance up the world ranking."

Bahrain, 61st in the FIFA rankings, reached the playoffs again after finishing third in their Asian qualifying group and then edging out Saudi Arabia over two legs to finish as the fifth best team in Asia.

They remain favourites to beat Oceania champions New Zealand despite failing to capitalise on home advantage in last month's opening leg in Manama, which ended in a scoreless draw.

"We had many chances in the first game and this will give us enough motivation," Macala said.

"We will not be afraid of our opponents. Our main aim is to score early in order to put pressure on our opponents, who will be playing at home in front of their own fans."