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Midfield Role Likely For Vicelich

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Midfield Role Likely For Vicelich

Wellington, June 13 NZPA - A midfield role seems likely for veteran defender Ivan Vicelich when New Zealand open their account at the soccer World Cup in South Africa on Tuesday night (2330 start NZT).

Coach Ricki Herbert is not expected to risk vice-captain Tim Brown as he continues to rehabilitate from a fractured shoulder, with Vicelich instead likely to be to be given a central midfield role alongside Simon Elliott against group F rivals Slovakia at Rustenburg.

Herbert today signalled that he had settled on his defensive line and strikers, leaving the midfield as the only consideration before he confirms his starting 11 for the All Whites' first match on the World Cup stage since 1982.

Vicelich, the Oceania player of the year, was used in the midfield for 60 minutes in the 0-2 loss in a training match against Chile last week and he has since appeared there during practise sessions at their training base outside of Johannesburg.

The 33-year-old has not featured in a midfield role for New Zealand since 2007 but spent most of the past seven seasons there for his Dutch first division club.

Vicelich's extra experience is highly valued by Herbert and this should tip the balance in favour of the Auckland City captain ahead of Jeremy Christie.

Herbert appears loathe to tamper with his newly established back three combination of captain Ryan Nelsen and youngsters Winston Reid and Tommy Smith, the latter two emerging with much credit from the side's warmup matches in Europe against Serbia and Slovenia.

The ascension of Reid and Smith has seen more experienced defenders such as Vicelich and Ben Sigmund slip down the pecking order, although Vicelich is now expected to grab a starting berth due to Brown's misfortune.

Brown continues to recover from the shoulder injury sustained against Australia on May 24, and he rejoined his teammates last week after undergoing surgery in Auckland. However, it would be a shock for Herbert to risk him against Slovakia, with the team's second match, against world champions Italy on June 21 a more realistic option.

Herbert hinted strongly at his intentions after a public training session today when South African fans drowned out the venue with their vuvuzelas (blowing horns).

He said he expected to finalise his playing 11 after training tomorrow night (NZT).

"It's really now down to what we do in the midfield. There's the one position.

"We've being playing Ivan there at training. He has got great experience. It is a big game for us and that may be what we need to have."

Nelsen said anticipation levels within the All Whites had risen after the tournament's opening matches this weekend.

"There's only so many trainings and preparations you can do, you just want to get the thing started.

"The opening game (South Africa's 1-1 draw with Mexico) set it alight. It got everyone going, the crowd was buzzing, the country was buzzing. It just hits home, it's exciting now."

Nelsen said the side were largely unaware of the raised expectations back in New Zealand after the team's 1-0 win over world No 15 Serbia and overall performance in a 1-3 loss to Slovenia ahead of their arrival in South Africa.

But he thinks his side's maturity and growing depth will enable them to do themselves justice in the tournament.

"I think this team is a wee bit different from most New Zealand teams. We have got a lot of experience now amongst the squad and things don't daunt you as much as they once did. It really helps.

"We are not wet behind the ears. The guys are confident, we've got strikers who are very good and play in good leagues, the defenders as well and the same for the midfielders."

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