NZ have a ‘shot’: Nelsen

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - CLAY WIL­SON June 25, 2017 Ryan Nelsen

Ryan Nelsen be­lieves the All Whites have proven they are ca­pa­ble of giv­ing them­selves a ‘‘real shot’’ at qual­i­fy­ing for the 2018 World Cup.

Widely re­garded as one of New Zealand’s best foot­ballers, Nelsen fa­mously led New Zealand to an un­beaten record at the 2010 World Cup and spent al­most a decade play­ing in the English Premier League dur­ing a 19-year professional ca­reer.

Speak­ing to Sun­day Star Times from his home in Wash­ing­ton DC, where he played four years in Ma­jor League Soc­cer be­fore head­ing to Eng­land, Nelsen said he had been hugely im­pressed by the All Whites in a 2-1 loss to Mex­ico on Wed­nes­day (Thurs­day NZ time) at the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup.

The An­thony Hud­son-coached side were the bet­ter team in the first half and led 1-0 at the break be­fore Mex­ico, 78 places higher in the world rank­ings, came out fir­ing in the sec­ond spell and found the two goals re­quired for vic­tory.

The re­sult meant, af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing 2-0 loss to Rus­sia first-up, the All Whites could not make the semi­fi­nals.

But, ahead of their fi­nal group game against Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Por­tu­gal today, Nelsen was in no doubt as to what their ef­forts so far said about their chances of pre­vail­ing in a two-leg World Cup play­off tie in Novem­ber.

‘‘It has shown them if they don’t turn up they’ll get beaten soundly but if they play to their po­ten­tial they have a re­ally good chance,’’ he said, ad­ding how ev­i­dent the change in mind­set was as the play­ers left the field with ‘‘heads down, ab­so­lutely gut­ted.’’

‘‘Mex­ico will be bet­ter than the fifth-placed South Amer­i­can team. If they per­form like they did against Mex­ico over two legs, they’ve got a real shot at go­ing through.’’

Nelsen was not just full of praise at how close New Zealand had been able to push Mex­ico, but the cir­cum­stances and man­ner in which they had done it.

He be­lieved had Premier League star and cap­tain Win­ston Reid been fit and avail­able, the All Whites would not have started their cam­paign so slowly against Rus­sia and would have claimed at least a draw with Mex­ico.

Watch­ing the Mex­i­can game, Nelsen said he was a mix­ture of nerves but also ad­mi­ra­tion.

‘‘I was on the edge of my seat, try­ing to kick ev­ery ball with them.

‘‘That per­for­mance is one of the best I’ve seen from a New Zealand foot­ball team on the in­ter­na­tional stage in terms of cre­at­ing chances. They had some un­be­liev­able chances against a very, very good team.

‘‘What I liked about it was there was a no-fear at­ti­tude, a bit of a strut in their step, some ar­ro­gance about them. They didn’t care who the op­po­si­tion was and they pres­sured high and hard.

‘‘Mex­ico are a phe­nom­e­nally good pos­ses­sion team and for them to cough up the ball that many times was a plea­sure to watch.

‘‘But then our abil­ity once we That per­for­mance is one of the best I’ve seen from a New Zealand foot­ball team. won the ball to cre­ate some­thing . . . I never played for New Zealand in an elite com­pe­ti­tion where we had those types of chances against a top 20 team.’’

They were op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated by two main fac­tors, the All Whites’ at­ti­tude and who Hud­son has at his dis­posal.

Nelsen said small but fast and skil­ful play­ers like Ryan Thomas and Marco Ro­jas were ‘‘lovely to watch’’ and dif­fer­ent to the nor­mal New Zealand play­ers.

He felt New Zealand was pro­duc­ing more foot­ballers of a sim­i­lar mould, a trend that was ‘‘re­defin­ing’’ not just the All Whites but the sport in the coun­try.

‘‘Maybe they won’t think of it now but this tour­na­ment will set them in re­ally good stead for what’s com­ing,’’ Nelsen said.

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