All Whites captain Chris Wood feels his team has a point of advantage heading into the international friendly against Northern Ireland in Belfast tomorrow night (Saturday morning NZT).
Around 17,000 fans are expected at Windsor Park to come and sing their hearts out for the home side, but Wood is not lacking in belief that his team can upset the hosts as an unknown quantity.
The All Whites skipper believes with the homework that coach Anthony Hudson has done on the World No 26 and the knowledge they have of the Northern Irish side they are well prepared.
“I have played against quite a few of [the Northern Irish side] to be fair,” said the 25-year-old, who is in career-best form after claiming the Golden Boot with Leeds United in the English Championship.
“Our Gaffer is someone who has done a lot of homework. He is someone who studies teams to make sure we are ready and know our opposition inside out. All of our team know about Northern Ireland’s team but I don’t know if all of the Northern Ireland team could say that about us Kiwis. They go into a bit of the unknown with us but we will be ready for them.”
There is no closer knowledge than playing in the same team week-in, week-out. Wood is looking forward to taking on his Leeds United team-mate, midfielder Stuart Dallas.
“Stuey is a great player and a top man and he is always one of the first names down on the team sheet because he has that much influence on our team. It will be great to play up against him and great to catch up afterwards as well.”
Wood, who has travelled far and wide to represent New Zealand in recent years, said that playing closer to home will be a great treat and something he is thoroughly looking forward to.
“I have been crying out for a European game for all of my All Whites career so it is nice to get one so close to home. It is good that it is against a great team, it will be a great occasion and we will be ready for it.”
All Whites coach Hudson said they know what sort of challenge Northern Ireland will present and they have prepared well.
“We have a good idea of what we are going to face,” said Hudson. “They are a team full of experienced players. We are expecting a team that is incredibly tough to play against. What they do, they do very well and we look at this game as a very important game in our preparation for the Confederations Cup.”
Hudson said the message has been clear to his team that they are not treating this match as a friendly.
“If we are going to be ready for Russia then we have to come here and perform well. We want to get a result. We are not here to try things out and test things out. We know what we want to get out of this game and we are all genuinely looking forward to it.”
Wood has made a name for himself in 2016 – 17 as a lethal striker in front of goal. He wants to carry that form on as captain of the All Whites at a major tournament.
“Personally it was a great season for me. I really enjoyed my season and put Leeds back on the map and in a position that we want to be. It has been a great season and hopefully I can take that into this summer campaign.”
Wood said the team are well aware of what a good run of results at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia could do for football back in New Zealand.
“It was huge for football in 2010 after we got back from the World Cup, football took off again. We know it is what can happen in New Zealand if we do well at major competitions. The Confederations Cup will be the same thing. When we go and do well there it will take off again and hopefully progress into Russia the following year.”
All Whites fixtures pre-FIFA Confederations Cup
2 June v Northern Ireland in Belfast, Northern Ireland (3 June NZT)
6 June v Cabinteely FC in Dublin, Republic of Ireland (7 June NZT)
12 June v Belarus in Minsk, Belarus (13 June NZT)
Friendly internationals live on SKY Sport
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw
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
All FCC matches live on SKY Sport