New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert welcomed what he sees as a favorable draw for his team in next year’s World Cup.
The Kiwis, made 1,000-to-1 longshots by some bookmakers to win the tournament in South Africa, were drawn in Group F beside defending champion Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, who they will play in their opening match.
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Herbert, who played as a defender in the only previous New Zealand team to reach the World Cup in 1982, nervously watched the draw on television at 7 a.m. Saturday local time.
He could not attend the live draw in Cape Town because he also coaches the Wellington Phoenix club side, which played Melbourne on Friday in Australian football’s A-League.
“We’re pleased,” Herbert told Radio Sport. “You always go into it (the draw) a little bit tentative on who you might get. Italy is obviously a huge one but great to get. But the other two we’ve got to back ourselves (against).”
New Zealand lost to Italy 4-3 in a warmup match ahead of this year’s Confederations Cup, giving Herbert some insight into the task ahead of his team.
“Both teams were trying their hand before the Confed Cup but this is the World Cup and they’re obviously going to be a tough one for us but a fantastic one to get,” he said. “The other two will be tough. That will obviously be the hardest thing for us but we can do our homework now. (They are) two sides that the country hasn’t experienced before and I think that’s important too. The planning and preparation really needs to start now against them.”
Herbert agreed that New Zealand may benefit from being drawn against teams which generally play physical but structured football. He said New Zealand would now try to schedule warmup matches against teams which played similar styles to their Cup opponents.
“Anything that could play into our hands would be a bonus for us,” he said. “We’re only going to be as good as we are. From a planning point of view and everything that we do around organization now and games leading into the tournament, that process has to get under way immediately to give us the best chance no matter who we play.”
Herbert said the draw was another of the emotional high points his team had enjoyed since it sealed its place in South Africa with a 1-0 home win over Bahrain on Nov. 14.
“It’s been 27 years since something like this happened so it’s been an incredibly passionate time since we qualified,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been a lot different from many people just waiting for this to come. It’s come now and I’m just so proud that we’re back in the World Cup.
“Now the dust settles and the program starts to crank up and get under way.”