Hometown tie sparks Nelsen

Under pressure: 'I better not have a stinker'

TONY SMITH
Last updated 09:34 15/10/2012
Ryan Nelsen, Ma'a Nonu
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
SPORT STARS: All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen and All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu pose for a photograph at Christchurch Airport yesterday.

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The All Whites will help bring the central Christchurch red zone to life this afternoon by kickstarting a new football pitch.

A vacant red-zone space has been transformed into a public football pitch by the Gap Filler team, aided by Nike Football.

Cantabrian and All White Ben Sigmund will be at the official handover of the Hereford St pitch, near the Colombo St corner, to the Christchurch City Council at 3.30pm today.

Fellow players Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas will also be there for the 5-a-side knockout tournament with local childtren.

Other players will be at a public signing session at Riccarton's Rebel Sport at 3.30pm.

The team are in Christchurch to play against Tahiti at AMI Stadium on Tuesday in the second home match of their crusade to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

If New Zealand qualifies it will be the first time they have competed in back to back World Cups.

Mayor Bob Parker is encouraging football fans to show their support by attending Tuesday's game.

"This is an opportunity for parents to take their budding champions along to meet some players and for football enthusiasts to see their favourite players in action on the field.

"The whole country got behind the All Whites in 2010, where they were the only nation not to lose a game during that World Cup. Cantabrians can now show their support again by turning the night white and heading to AMI Stadium."

So far, about 7500 tickets have been sold, out of 17,000.

The game will be the first time Christchurch-born footballing legend and All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen will play in All White colours in Christchurch - and it will also be his 50th A international.

Other home town favourites spectators will get to see in action are Ben Sigmund and Jeremy Brockie, while English Premier League player defender Winston Reid (West Ham United) and English Championship striker Chris Wood (Millwall) will also be on show.

HOMETOWN MATCH PRESSURE 'I'D BETTER NOT HAVE A STINKER'

All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen has declared himself fit and raring to go for his first international in home town Christchurch tomorrow and the All Blacks couldn't be happier about that.

The All Whites arrived at Christchurch yesterday afternoon after their 2-0 World Cup qualifying group win over Tahiti and Papeete and ran smack bang into the All Blacks bound for a pre-Bledisloe Cup training camp here.

Nelsen chewed the fat with another of Canterbury's favourite sporting sons, Dan Carter, and said later they had met several times over the years because their mothers know each other.

All Blacks centre Conrad Smith, an avowed Wellington Phoenix fan, stopped to shake Nelsen's hand and say "well done" and wish him the best for tomorrow night's rematch against Tahiti at AMI Stadium.

Ma'a Nonu posed for a photograph with Nelsen and he and wing Hosea Gear had a chat with All Whites and Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert.

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Nelsen, who has not played in Christchurch for "pushing 15 years", said it was "absolutely brilliant" to be home. He declared the knee niggle, which forced him to miss the Papeete game, wouldn't stop him leading the All Whites out in Christchurch.

"I'll be fine for the game, it's just the repercussions after that the club is worried about and I suppose I should be a bit more worried about. But it's the Christchurch game."

Nelsen is renowned for clutching the silver fern on his shirt and kissing the badge during the national anthem. He said he won't know until he runs out the AMI Stadium tunnel, but the Queen's Park Rangers centreback "thinks it will be [an emotional moment]. Especially now, when you get to the end of your career, you cherish little memories more because it ends pretty soon.

"I think something like this will be very special. I've got a lot of pressure, I'd better not have a stinker in front of everybody."

Nelsen has been the poster boy for the Tahiti game with his photograph adorning billboards around the city. He seemed a little embarrassed at the attention.

"There's a lot better looking guys on the team than me, so that's probably a bad marketing plan," he quipped.

It'll be a whistlestop trip for Nelsen, who won't get to celebrate his 35th birthday on Thursday in Christchurch. "I have to fly straight back on Wednesday. Obviously, we've got a massive game [against third-placed Everton on Monday] when we get back. The club's under huge amounts of pressure, so's the manager and all the players."

Nelsen and English premier league colleague Winston Reid from West Ham United rested in Auckland over the weekend before joining the All Whites party on their return from Tahiti yesterday morning. Reid suffered back spasms during the Hammers' last EPL game against Arsenal last week.

Herbert was upbeat yesterday about Nelsen and Reid's chances of bolstering the All Whites' backline.

Nelsen said his niggly knee "wasn't great after the West Brom game" last week. "But it is what it is. It's not an 18-year-old knee any more, it needs a bit more maintenance now."

QPR manager Mark Hughes, who gave Nelsen his first EPL contract at Blackburn Rovers in 2005, was not overjoyed about his defensive linchpin returning Down Under.

Nelsen joked he had been "too scared" to contact Hughes since arriving in New Zealand.

"I just pray I don't get injured [tomorrow] or I think I'll have to stay in Christchurch, they'll rip up my contract," he joked. "I don't think [Hughes] will talk to me until I'm fully fit and available again."

QPR had five defenders, "who could potentially be starting" out injured so Hughes' anxiety is understandable."

"The oldest and most crippled, myself, is the only one that's been injury-free. It's been really tough," Nelsen said.

Nelsen said the game in Tahiti "was a real grind" with "the refereeing standard bordering on abysmal" and the Tommy Smith-captained team "did really well" to secure an away win.

"Tuesday will be really similar, it'll be a really hard game. They're probably out of it now for the World Cup qualifiers and they will be totally focusing on the [2013] Confederations Cup finals."

SIGMUND KEEN FOR ANOTHER CHANCE TO SCORE

Wellington Phoenix hero Ben Sigmund's headed goal in Tahiti may have boosted his hopes of a winning his first cap on Canterbury soil alongside former Christchurch United clubmate Ryan Nelsen.

Coach Ricki Herbert, who will decide his starting XI today, admitted "Siggy was awesome, he took his chance really well".

Shane Smeltz gave the All Whites a 1-0 buffer in the 24th minute on Saturday night with his 23rd international goal to join 1982 World Cup finals great Steve Sumner in joint second place on the all- time scorers' chart.

But the All Whites weren't able to completely relax until Sigmund nodded home a Tony Lochhead corner in the 82nd minute of the World Cup qualifier.

"Someone just needed to put the nail in the coffin," Sigmund said.

"I got sick of the strikers missing, so I thought I'd better do it myself."

With Nelsen and fellow English premier league star Winston Reid injured, Sigmund started in central defence alongside stand-in skipper Tommy Smith. He said he'd "like to think" he had done enough to warrant retention tomorrow.

"I always want to play. Whenever I go out there and try to do my best, that's what I've done and you just leave it in the arms of the coach now."

Much of the focus has been on Nelsen's first home game but Sigmund, who made his All Whites debut in 2000 and been a regular selection since 2006, has never played an international in Christchurch either.

"Bugger Ryan," he laughed. "It's all about me . . . certainly for me, it's a big thing as well. It'd be nice to get out in front of my family and friends and all the people who've been there [during my career]."

Sigmund said he would love to play alongside Nelsen in Christchurch, 14 years after the pair last turned out here for Christchurch United.

Nelsen wasn't surprised to hear Sigmund slot the clincher "and make the game secure" in Papeete. "That's just Siggy. He always puts in a really good performance, he's been doing that for the Phoenix year-in, year-out."

Ten to 15 members of the Sigmund family will be at AMI Stadium and he said "John Brown [his former Canterbury United coach] and [ex-All White goalkeeper] Alan Stroud are getting a busload from O'Shea's pub. It'll be cool to see them, and I think they'll be raring to go."

Herbert is likely to revert to his 2010 World Cup starting rearguard of Nelsen, Smith and Winston Reid but there will be a clamour from Canterbury fans for Sigmund to get some game time.

First-choice goalkeeper Mark Paston withdrew on Saturday with a foot infection and his progress will be monitored today before deciding who starts between the sticks.

Midfielder Tim Payne will serve a one-match ban for a second yellow card.

Herbert was pleased the All Whites' were "professional" in Papetee and didn't react to some questionable calls by Vanuatu referee Bruce George.

"The boys did well, Leo [Bertos] had to defend a little bit [at right back], but not much, Glen [Moss] didn't have to make any saves but dealt with stuff in the box quite well."

SCORERS New Zealand 2 (Shane Smeltz 24th min, Ben Sigmund 82) Tahiti 0. HT: 1-0.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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