Veteran Vicelich grateful for SOS call

AUCKLAND - About 12 months ago, New Zealand defender Ivan Vicelich had kicked off his boots following Auckland City's successful domestic campaign and Oceania club title and was looking for a way to keep fit in the off-season.

Recently retired from internationals, he also thought he would watch New Zealand's Confederations Cup campaign in South Africa on television.

Then came the call.

"Some people have called it an SOS, but I got a phone call from (New Zealand coach) Ricki (Herbert) because Ryan Nelsen was injured and he said he wanted to get a little bit more experience back in the squad," Vicelich told Reuters.

"I had a bit of a deliberation about it. I'd just finished my league with Auckland. We'd won the double, won the league and the Oceania league and the body was feeling good.

"I didn't want to have three months off so I had a talk with Ricki and we came to the agreement that I'd come back for the Confederations Cup and for the rest of the World Cup campaign."

Vicelich, who had retired from internationals in 2008, appeared in each of the All Whites' three games at the tournament, including in the 0-0 draw with Asian champions Iraq where they secured their first point at a FIFA event.

"That was exciting," he said of the tournament, used as a test event ahead of the World Cup finals that begin in South Africa on June 11.

"I really enjoyed the Confederations Cup. I had been away for about a year and I found the fire was still there." Vicelich, who had been a stalwart of New Zealand's previous two World Cup campaigns, then found himself back anchoring the defence with Nelsen for the two games of the Asia/Oceania qualifier against Bahrain.

"Having been involved in three campaigns, I learned ... how hard it was to get to the World Cup. It was always a very difficult dream for New Zealanders.

"It's been 28 years since we have been there. In your mind you know its very difficult and you have to be realistic.

"But we have worked very hard as a team and ... the squad performed," he added of the 1-0 aggregate victory.

Vicelich was, as expected, named in Herbert's final 23-man squad for the finals. Although the squad were realistic about their chances, the 33-year-old said their standards had increased since he first played for New Zealand in 1995 and that he felt they could surprise in South Africa.

"Players are playing at a higher level than they were 10 years ago," he said. "Slowly, a few of us got overseas and now the majority of the team are playing professionally, whether it's in Europe, the (Australian) A-League or America.

"The quality is there."

After almost eight years in the Dutch league, mostly with Roda JC, Vicelich is content playing for Auckland City in the amateur domestic league, while working towards coaching qualifications.

However, given the shop window that exists with the World Cup, he has not ruled out a return to professional football, should anyone come calling.

"I'm never going to say never. Football is a funny game," he added with a grin. "But I'm just going to enjoy the World Cup.

"I really want the country to enjoy it. I really hope the country gets behind it for the next six or seven