New Zealand’s World Cup squad arrived in South Africa after a warm-up tour of mixed results but encouraging performances.
A training match against Chile at Nelspruit is their final dress rehearsal but Kiwi supporters still hope it will be all right on the night for the All Whites.
Home media labelled the 3-1 reverse in Maribor ‘a reality check’ coming after the previous week’s defeat of Serbia.
Milivoje Jokanovic’s free kick double was the difference, and a spill from goalkeeper Mark Paston gifted the hosts a third.
The Slovenes, in front of a partisan home crowd, played with far more intensity than the Serbs.
Jokanovic’s set pieces were pristine in execution.
The first came after Ryan Nelsen’s elbow, a challenge which was open to interpretation. However, his dive for the second was calculated for maximum effect. In between, Rory Fallon equalised.
Paston’s handling errors may have been caused by the new design footballs.
Problems with each generation of ball seem to happen at every World Cup and many teams have admitted problems with the 2010 version.
The usually reliable Phoenix custodian needs to recover his certainty and get to grips with it.
Looking ahead to the real thing, the defensive line Ricki Herbert has used in the last month – Winston Reid, Nelsen, and Tommy Smith – has show decent form and understanding of his formation.
I had argued for the inclusion of Ivan Vicelich and Ben Sigmund. But the incumbents have probably done enough to keep their places in South Africa – and Reid and Smith are definitely there for the future.
They need to take care to avoid exploitation from wily attackers such as Jokanovic – all three group opponents have free kick specialists.
Jeremy Christie has also been tidy since replacing Tim Brown in midfield alongside the impressive Simon Elliott. Continuity there also makes sense.
Up front, Fallon enhanced his reputation as the team’s ‘go to’ striker.
Shane Smeltz is primarily a finisher. His job is to be in the right place at the right time.
Chris Killen’s two-match absence gave Chris Wood an opportunity. He worked hard but missed clear chances - although his best in Slovenia was saved expertly.
Another midfielder may be wise but the policy hasn’t been tried and looks unlikely.
Whoever Herbert selects, his team have the nation’s backing.
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