Nelsen insists underdogs Kiwis 'are a very good team'

Preview: New Zealand v Slovakia, Today, 12.30pm, BBC1
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The Independent Online

Slovakia and New Zealand, two World Cup outsiders, are keen to show they won't be pushovers in South Africa when they meet in their Group F opener today.

Slovakia are playing in their first international tournament as an independent nation since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. New Zealand, meanwhile, are returning to the World Cup finals for the first time since their 1982 debut.

But All Whites captain and Blackburn defender Ryan Nelsen says his team's performances in warm-up games demonstrated they have the talent to test their group opponents, who also include Italy and Paraguay.

"We've proved over last four or five games we can be competitive," Nelsen said, looking back on a recent 1-0 win over Serbia, who are ranked 15 in the world. "We're a very good team. It's as simple as that."

New Zealand's other English-based players are the Middlesbrough striker Chris Killen, Plymouth striker Rory Fallon, and Ipswich Town's Tommy Smith. They also have Shane Smeltz, who was top scorer in the Australian A-League last season.

"We've proven that we have been more than competitive across the board," said coach Ricki Herbert, a New Zealand defender at Spain '82.

Herbert said he would put the veteran defender Ivan Vicelich in midfield as Tim Brown recovers from a fractured shoulder that could keep him out of the entire tournament.



Missing the experience

Slovakia pipped the Czech Republic and Poland to World Cup qualification but will be without their most experienced player, 33-year-old midfielder Miroslav Karhan, for the opener due to an Achilles injury.

The strikers Filip Holosko and Robert Vittek are also regaining match fitness after injuries. That means the Sparta Prague midfielder Juraj Kucka, 23, who did not play in qualifying but scored in Slovakia's 1-1 draw against Cameroon last month, may feature at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

The key Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is back in training after breaking his foot in February and captain Marek Hamsik of Napoli has returned after a muscle injury.

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