Sigmund moves on from shock defeat

JOHN ALEXANDER
Last updated 10:37 27/06/2012

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Ben Sigmund is a player renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve for whichever team he's playing for, but even he felt powerless to do anything about New Zealand's shock exit in the semifinals of the recent Oceania Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands.

The All Whites were hot favourites going into the tournament which had, as a massive carrot, entry to the prestigious Confederations Cup. Coming off the back of two good results in the United States against Honduras and El Salvador, they struggled throughout the tournament in Honiara and in the end, their 0-2 semifinal defeat to New Caledonia was almost not a surprise.

Sigmund was back in Blenheim, where he was born, last weekend as a guest of Marlborough Football, still smarting from that result and from the way the tournament was organised, with the players forced to perform in oppressive conditions and a compressed period of time.

The All Whites played five matches in eight days, all on the same field and eventually they simply ran out of gas against the enthusiastic and skilful opposition.

"The way I would describe it was a 60-year-old with a 30-year-old mind. Your body actually wants to do it but it was just so hot and draining. Your body just shut down after 15 minutes.

"Playing in the heat of the day, 39 degrees [Celsius] and never getting below 38 and humidity with it, the sun just pelting down on you.

"It was tough, then you had the referees to deal with as well and not many of them did any favours for you. I don't want to blame it on just those conditions, but it was a huge factor."

Sigmund is admired for how hard he plays and the fact he never stops trying, but the two-time Phoenix player of the year admitted defeat this time around.

"I remember the first game we played in Honiara and thinking, `Holy heck, we've got another four games to go'.

"The second game, I thought, `Right, I'm really going to give it everything here'. I was really disappointed in my first game. I got out there for the second game and the same thing happened. The heat just zapped you and you couldn't run.

"The Island boys were as good as gold and at the end of the day you've got to take your hat off to them. Tahiti, who won it, they turned up and performed and good on them."

Sigmund wasn't happy that Football New Zealand or Fifa allowed such a ridiculous schedule and that New Zealand turned down the opportunity to host the tournament.

"There were a number of reasons why New Zealand Football didn't host it but I think if you have an opportunity to have a tournament in New Zealand to help the All Whites out, or any New Zealand team, then they should do it.

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"Going over and playing how we did in the Solomon Islands was ridiculous. No-one does it. New Zealand Football certainly have got to look at it and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Although he was frustrated about the outcome and the way the tournament was arranged, Sigmund said the Island countries had improved significantly and had some very skilful players.

He would like the tournament to be played as it was last time when the four top Island teams qualified, then played home and away against New Zealand, with games played out of the heat of the day.

Sigmund said the two impressive results against El Salvador and Honduras showed how well the All Whites could play under much more normal conditions against technically better opposition.

Lessons would be learnt off and on the field and would benefit the team in future internationals, Sigmund believes.

"One good thing about Ricki Herbert and the All Whites is we never underestimate anyone. We always know that you have to go out each game and give it everything."

He didn't agree with suggestions that missing out on the Confederations Cup, which cost New Zealand Football more than $1.5 million, was a big setback in the All Whites' bid to qualify for the next World Cup.

"It's disappointing, of course. You want to go to the Confederations Cup and play against the top world teams, but I think it might be a blessing in disguise and steel the resolve to roll up our sleeves and make sure we do qualify."

The experienced defender had high praise for Marlborough goalie Michael O'Keeffe who was drafted over to Honiara after Mark Paston's injury.

"He deserves a lot of credit. He's such a nice guy and he's a good player.

"He went around every single player and shook their hand when he arrived, " Sigmund said.

"I hope he plays at the Olympics because he deserves to."

- The Marlborough Express

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