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Size may matter in New Zealand's WCup campaign

Size may matter in New Zealand's WCup campaign

Physical size and doggedness are likely to be New Zealand's greatest weapons at the World Cup in South Africa.
New Zealand lacks the star power and possibly the raw talent of most teams, and is widely considered as the rank outsider among the 32 teams.
Even after a reasonably favorable draw in Group F with defending champion Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, expectations are not high that New Zealand will fare better than in its only previous appearance, in 1982, when it lost to Scotland, Russia and Brazil.
But comparisons between the 1982 and 2010 All Whites teams are at least revealing of the ground New Zealand football has gained and the transformation it has undergone between World Cup appearances.
Coach Ricki Herbert was a young defender in the 1982 team, comprised primarily of New Zealand-based amateurs dazzled by their first entrance onto a world stage. Herbert's 2010 squad members are almost all fulltime professionals, several of whom play regularly in overseas leagues.
Nor is New Zealand likely to be as star-struck as it was 28 years when it made its first World Cup appearance after the longest qualifying campaign in the tournament's history.
Recent appearances at the Confederations Cup in South Africa and friendly internationals against teams such as Italy have given Herbert's players a taste of top competition.
Herbert became New Zealand coach in 2005, and New Zealand had only one international match in that year. Qualification for the Confederations Cup, among other events, has helped loosen purse strings and New Zealand has played much more widely in the past two years, allowing Herbert to build a squad with depth and experience.
His squad for South Africa will include captain Ryan Nelsen, the team's most seasoned international and the key to its success, strikers Chris Killen of Middlesbrough, Chris Wood of West Bromwich and Rory Fallon of Plymouth Argyle.
In midfield, Herbert has Simon Elliott, previously of Fulham and now with San Jose, Michael McGlinchey of Motherwell and Craig Henderson, who is based in Sweden. Among the defenders, Herbert can call on Nelsen, Tommy Smith of Brentford and Steven Old of Kilmarnock.
Herbert has used consistent selection policies to build depth and developed a no-frills style which suits his team's strengths, one of the greatest of which is its physicality.
Critics have charged Herbert with being too defensive. But under his leadership, New Zealand has developed a clear-sighted, functional style which has given it confidence and made it competitive against more skillful sides.
It may be because rugby is New Zealand's national sport and a pervasive part of its culture that New Zealand football teams tend to be big, robust and physical. It is also a question of type: Herbert has a surfeit of tall players who are best served by a physical style.
New Zealand won the Oceania qualifying tournament _ the first since Australia quit the federation to join Asia in search of a direct entry to the World Cup. That gave New Zealand an easier road to an intercontinental playoff against Bahrain, the fifth-place Asian team. That win earned the World Cup spot.
"I think it's great that these boys are going to go and experience the World Cup, which is going to be an incredible chance and dream for them," Herbert said. "Knowing what it's like, it's a step into the top echelon of football and they deserve it. They've worked extremely hard.
"Maybe sometimes these things are meant to be. You can only hope and believe."