Smeltz confident for opener

Shane Smeltz. All Whites training, Dublin Ireland, Monday 5th June 2017. Photo: Shane Wenzlick /

All Whites striker Shane Smeltz says the team have no problem with the low expectations on them heading into the FIFA Confederations Cup.

The 35-year-old evergreen forward, who is attending his third FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, said the team are looking forward to surprising a few people when the tournament kicks off this Saturday (Sunday 3am NZT) in the opening game against the hosts in St Petersburg.

New Zealand has never won at a FIFA Confederations Cup. Their best result remains a 0-0 draw with Iraq in 2009 and Smeltz said this team has set its sights on making history in the ‘Tournament of Champions’.

“There are probably not too many people at this tournament who will expect us to do too much here,” said Smeltz to a packed press conference today in St Petersburg. “I’m sure that everyone is expecting Russia to win that first game, but internally we have our own ambition and our own focus and we obviously hope to fulfil that.”

Smeltz said the team has had a good build-up to this event.  They have played two international friendlies against Northern Ireland (1-0 loss) and Belarus (1-0 loss) and staged a training camp in Dublin that was all about match fitness.

“Now it is all about mentality. We have been preparing for this for a long time now so we go into this opening game in a good position.”

One of the heroes from the FIFA World Cup campaign in 2010, where the All Whites famously did not lose a game in pool play, said the team is taking things one game at a time. The main focus is on the opening game as they look to upset the World No 63 Russia who recently drew 1-1 with Chile.

“If we can do what we want to do in that game then it sets us up well for the rest of the tournament,” said Smeltz.   “We definitely have the ambition to get through to the semi-finals. We are here to win games. We are not just here to make up the numbers. The full focus of our preparation has been on our first game.”

The All Whites will then meet World No 17 Mexico in Sochi on 21 June and finish their pool play against European Champions and World No 8 Portugal in St Petersburg on 24 June.

Smeltz said the results in the last few friendlies have not been a major concern for the team or the coaching staff. The international friendlies were much more about performance and getting ready for the main event.

“We had only just come together when we went down to Northern Ireland and there was some very good things to come from that game. It could have easily been another result. There is plenty of belief in this squad.”

He said the lack of goals in the past two international friendlies was not a worry as the team has proven they have goal scorers and are up for the challenge of trying to scoring against quality teams.

“You always want to be scoring goals, but I look around the squad and know that this team has plenty of goals in this squad,” he said. “It is just a matter of us now having that belief and that target of going out there and putting it in the back of the net. We have Woodsy [Chris Wood] coming off an unbelievable season in the Championship in England, and we have many other players around him who can score goals. There is definitely a belief in this squad that we have goals in us.”

History shows that Smeltz is right. In his 54 internationals since making his debut in 2003, Smeltz has scored 24 goals, only four shy of the long-standing national record held by Vaughan Coveny (28).

The local Russian media asked plenty of questions on how the Kiwis are enjoying St Petersburg and their impressions on the stadiums, and also why the All Whites do not perform a Maori haka before the game like their rugby counterparts the All Blacks.

“You want us to dance?” dead-panned Smeltz in the lightest moment in the press conference. “I can tell you that we are all very good dancers.”

Smeltz smiled like a man with experience. He has been here before. He knows the significance of this opportunity for football in New Zealand as the team looks to build its momentum towards qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

“Whenever you have the opportunity to perform on the world stage, it gives you the opportunity to put New Zealand Football back in the spotlight,” said Smeltz. “We have many people watching back home and we want to do them proud. We have shown that in the past and 2010 with the World Cup that the country was going mad for football. We have got the opportunity now to do that again. Hopefully we can take it.”

2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites fixtures
17 June 6pm (3am 18 June NZT) v Russia, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
21 June 9pm (6am 22 June NZT) v Mexico Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
24 June 6pm (3am 25 June NZT) v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
Live on SKY Sport

Related Topics: