All Whites look to finish on a high

Mexico close down All Whites Chris Wood. FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, Mexico v New Zealand, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Wednesday 21st June 2017. Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

The All Whites want to finish the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia on a high.

The OFC Nations Cup champions, who impressed in their 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday night in Sochi, are looking to build on that performance against the European champions Portugal.

Portugal manager Fernando Santos has world-class players at his disposal, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo and others like Nani, Pepe and Ricardo Quaresma in one of the strongest line-ups a New Zealand team has ever faced.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JUNE 21: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal looks on during the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Group A match between Russia and Portugal at Spartak Stadium on June 21, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Taking on the World No 8 ranks up there with the All Whites meeting the defending World Champions Italy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the European champions Spain at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson knows it won’t be easy but his squad has recovered well from a physical game and he expects them to be up for the challenge.

“I see this as another game that we want to approach with right mentality and we want to go into this game and get a result,” said Hudson at today’s press conference at Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg.

“People had written us off going into that Mexico game. I was reading that Mexico were going to beat us 3, 4 or 5-0, but we gave them a great challenge and we feel we deserved more from that game… We like it when people write us off.”

The New Zealand starting line-up against Mexico. Photo: FIFA via Getty Images

Captain Chris Wood, who scored the opening goal the other night for his 20th goal in internationals for New Zealand, said there was no lack of belief in the 23-man squad as they face many household names of world football.

“It is another chance for us to play top quality opposition,” said the 25-year-old. “We took a great side all the way the other night and now we want to go one step better. We have the capability of doing that against Portugal tomorrow night. If we play like we did the other night we will knock Portugal off.”

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Hudson admitted to having mixed emotions following the 2-1 loss to El Tri in Sochi. He was pleased with the performance where the World No 95 dominated their more fancied rivals in the first half, and created plenty of chances, but was disappointed his team could not hold to get a result they deserved.

He said nothing changes in their mind-set, even with them taking on Portugal.

“We don’t come in here looking up to the opposition. We could be playing whoever. We know Portugal are world-class and they present a different challenge to Mexico but we come into this game wanting a result and we do everything we can to try and get it,” he said.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JUNE 21: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Pepe of Portugal walk out for the second half during the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Group A match between Russia and Portugal at Spartak Stadium on June 21, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, Hudson and Wood were hit with a plethora of questions about Ronaldo and how they plan to stop one of the world’s premier players.

Hudson said he wasn’t the first coach to be asked that question, and that every manager of every team he comes up against gets asked that.

“We know that this is a world-class team and in my opinion he is the best in the world,” said Hudson. “If you take Ronaldo out of their team then they still have some world-class players in there as well. It is not like you stop him and you stop them, they have other world-class players like Nani like Quaresma… we have a game plan that we are going to stick to as a team and we are not overawed by the challenge.”

All 23 players in the squad are fully fit and available for selection. It has been a demanding week both physically and mentally – with three games in eight days – but Wood assured the media that his team would be ready and motivated to surprise people again.

“Everyone has coped very well so far and hopefully we can do that all the way up to the next game,” said the Leeds United striker.  “The boys want to be at these major competitions. We want to be at World Cups. We want to be at Confederation Cups. We want to be here and get results. We were so close the other night and that has made us even more determined to get a result tomorrow night.”

Ryan Thomas throws himself in front of a shot from Mexico captain Diego Reyes. Photo: FIFA via Getty Images

Portugal have opened the tournament with a 2-2 draw with Mexico and a 1-0 win over Russia. Mexico and Russia meet at the same time in Kazan and tomorrow’s results will determine who claims the two semi-final places and in what order.

Hudson’s team is out of contention but he is hugely optimistic about the promise shown on this tour.  He said the significant improvement in his side in the past three years has been plain to see.

“When we come to these tournaments, people speak very highly of us and they see the promise in our team. They know the gulf in the quality between the sides we come up against and the team is starting to get respect now which is good. I am happy with where the team is now compared to where it was a few years ago and we want to keep improving.”

FIFA Confederations Cup – Group A
New Zealand v Portugal
Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
Saturday 24 June, 6pm (Sunday 25 June, 3am NZT)
Live on SKY Sport
#NZLPOR

New Zealand (from): 1. Stefan Marinovic (GK), 2. Sam Brotherton, 3. Deklan Wynne, 4. Themi Tzimopoulos, 5. Michael Boxall, 6. Bill Tuiloma, 7. Kosta Barbarouses, 8. Michael McGlinchey, 9. Chris Wood (c), 10. Shane Smeltz, 11. Marco Rojas, 12. Glen Moss (GK), 13. Monty Patterson, 14. Ryan Thomas, 15. Clayton Lewis, 16. Dane Ingham, 17. Thomas Doyle, 18. Kip Colvey, 19. Alex Rufer, 20. Tommy Smith, 21. Storm Roux, 22. Andrew Durante, 23. Tamati Williams (GK) Coach: Anthony Hudson

Portugal (from) 1. Rui Patricio (GK), 2. Bruno Alves. 3. Pepe, 4. Luis Neto, 5. Raphael Guerreiro, 6. Jose Fonte 7. Cristiano Ronaldo (c), 8. Joao Moutinho, 9. Andre Silva, 10. Bernardo Silva, 11. Nelson Semedo, 12. Jose Sa (GK), 13. Danilo, 14. William, 15. Andre Gomes, 16. Pizzi, 17. Nani, 18. Gelson Martins, 19. Eliseu 20. Ricardo Quaresma, 21. Cedric, 22. Beto (GK), 23. Adrien Silva Coach: Fernando Santos

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