Recent results seem to suggest that New Zealand’s main concern at the Confederations Cup this month will not be whether they can defeat Spain, Iraq or South Africa, but rather, whether they can score at all against them.
A 0-0 draw at Botswana follows a 1-0 defeat to Tanzania in successive friendlies which the All Whites have been using to get the team in playing shape. Though the matches should be seen an little more than run-outs for the team, the complete lack of offensive firepower has to be a concern for manager Ricki Herbert.
Add to that the absence (once again) of defense lynchpin Ryan Nelsen, and the future for the New Zealand footballers seems blacker than the jerseys of their rugby-playing cousins.
Ricki’s mind, at least, seems to be in the right place. In terms of priorities, a decent showing in the Confederations Cup is well behind winning their upcoming World Cup qualifying playoff against the fifth-placed Asian team.
“If you look at everything we’ve been able to get as far as the games have been concerned, Tanzania and Botswana have both been quick, athletic and look to get in behind you all of the time, and I think that’s going to be reflective of what South Africa are going to be like, probably Iraq too and certainly what the World Cup playoff will be like in October.”
The upcoming Confederations Cup games should be, above all, a way to gauge which areas of the team will require attention heading into that playoff. An ideal result would be to get some goals in South Africa and see one or two players emerge as go-to men up front. Either Shane Smeltz or Chris Killen (or, ideally, both) must produce some goals in this tournament.
Nelsen will be sorely missed this month, but it is far more important that he recover in time to face whoever the Asian playoff contender will be. Right now, that looks to be either North Korea or Saudi Arabia, or possibly Bahrain. Any one of those will be difficult, especially on the away legs. To win, New Zealand will need to cultivate the strength of will and confidence that the captain can provide.
As far as the Confederations Cup, don’t overlook Iraq. They are a legitimate Asian champion and are my pick to cause a shock in the Cup. Don’t be too surprised if they pip South Africa to join Spain in the semifinals. New Zealand’s best chances for their first ever point in this competition could very well come against the hosts. Spain however, could be a nightmare opening game for the All Whites. Hopefully that result will not be so embarrassing as to destroy the confidence of the New Zealanders.
In the other group, I see Brazil and Italy progressing with little trouble, as the USA has been very inconsistent in its own qualifying and Egypt is a good, but not great, side. Expect Brazil to win the group with a bit of style and Italy to progress because they won’t allow any goals (but will not score many either).
Spain is still the best team in the world, and I’ll be surprised if they don’t justify that ranking here. A Spain-Brazil final could be highly entertaining, if somewhat one-sided considering the Spanish ability to control the midfield against just about any opponent in the world.