Kiwi's wails in Wales - it always happens to us

TONY SMITH IN CARDIFF
Last updated 10:37 27/07/2012

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OPINION: Why do big games in Wales usually end in wails for Kiwi sports fans?

Sure, the All Blacks regularly win groundhog day northern hemisphere tour tests there.

But the magnificent Millennium Stadum - Cardiff's central city amphitheatre - is fast becoming a graveyard for New Zealand teams at global sporting festivals.

No-one needs reminding the All Blacks fluffed their lines against France at the Millennium Stadium in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in 2007.

Such was the funeral mood among black-clad fans that day a Welsh wag entered the men's room after the final whistle and made a special plea to grieving Kiwis: "Belts and shoe laces please''.

The Football Ferns had a shot at squaring the ledger when they kicked off the Olympic Games festival against host nation Great Britain yesterday (NZ Time).

But, after such a bright start, they froze on the big stage. The game went to script with the Brits winning 1-0 from a Stephanie Houghton freekick straight out of a Brazilian training ground manual.

You have to love a city where the sports stadium is smack-bang in the CBD. Cardiff is rugby territory, home to the Six Nations champions.

But football's much more than afterthought in the principality. Swansea Town play in the English premiership and arch rivals Cardiff City strive to join them in the top tier.

Wales welcomed the chance to steal some of London's Olympic thunder. Cardiff's two daily papers both blazed the Olympics on their covers with the South Wales Echo proclaiming "Ring It On'' with the Olympic rings etched across the front page with one of the city's stateliest buildings in the background.

A souvenir seller who had ventured to Cardiff from Nottingham confidently asserted he expected to sell out of New Zealand memorabilia before the Football Ferns-Great Britain game.

It was a slightly surreal experience to go to a half-full Millennium Stadium when one is used to full houses at Welsh rugby tests.

The retractable roof was left open on a balmy day where the sun streamed in from the heavens. The ground was only half-full yet Great Britain captain Casey Stoner reckoned it was the best atmosphere she'd played in.

The Olympic authorites bussed in school kids to swell the crowd, but only half the 76,000 seats were filled.

Not everything went to plan on Cardiff's first big Olympic assignment. The security scanning machines weren't working at the media and officials gate, forcing the Welsh police's finest to fossick through visitors' bags with fine-tooth combs.

The big brass were present - Seb and Sepp, London organising committee chief Lord Seb Coe, a former Olympic middle-distance gold medallists and Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

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How the Football Ferns must have wished they had some of Coe's toe - speed on and off the ball cost them dearly.

Fullback Ali Riley, the best of the below-par Ferns, reckoned it was a "huge honour'' to play in the first event of the 2012 Olympics. "It's a little bit disappointing that eveyrone thinks the Olympics start in two days and there isn't as much publicity around the women's football, or the men's football.

"Great Britain is a great place to have [the Olympics], there's a lot of soccer fans here.''

The Ferns, who play Brazil in Cardiff on Sunday morning [NZT], have ben sequestered in the Hilton Hotel, the All Blacks' old digs. They had a couple of days in London's Olympic village before moving on to Wales. Captain Rebecca Smith said the team had received some warm Welsh welcomes from people passing the players in the streets near Cardiff Castle.

Smith says the Ferns were conscious of the "Kiwi tradition'' at Millennium Stadium. It wasn't talked about overtly but the central defender - whose uncle was former All Black fullback Richard Wilson - reckoned the players "know that the Welsh love their rugby and that the All Blacks have a very good history here.''

The Ferns had their own small pockets of support and also fed off the ripple erupting from those wonderful Welsh voices.

Shut your ears and the "GB'' chant - expected to become ubiquitous over the next two weeks - sounds uncannily like "Kiwi''.

It's certainly easier on the ear than that odious Australian mantra: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi Oi''.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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