Experienced defender Michael Boxall says the bigger the stage, the better the All Whites tend to perform.
The OFC Nations Cup Champions are only two days out from competing in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. As the World No 95 there is little expectation on what they can do in Group A alongside the hosts, World No 17 Mexico and World No 8 Portugal over the next 10 days but there is plenty of belief within the 23-man squad.
Boxall, a key figure in the national team since making his debut for the All Whites against China in 2011, said this team loves to rise to the occasion.
“Anytime we have come onto bigger stages against much stronger teams, it is a challenge that we love to embrace,” said the former Auckland City, Three Kings United, Ellerslie and Central United defender.
“Not only as a team but as a country. I think we love proving people wrong. We love coming up against much stronger teams and surprising a few people.”
Boxall referenced the recent results against world-class opposition like their tour of the USA last year where they lost 2-1 to Mexico in Nashville and drew 1-1 with the USA in Washington DC. Prior to that in 2015, the All Whites footed it with a highly-ranked South Korea side away from home, going down 1-0 in Seoul. Boxall feels the big stage of the ‘Tournament of Champions’ will inspire the team.
“The opportunity to play in front of a big crowd and especially at a big event like this, everyone wants to make their family proud and the country proud,” he said. “They want to walk off the field with their heads held high. If we do what we want to on Saturday we should be walking away with three points.”
Boxall, who has played 24 internationals for New Zealand and become one of the first names on the team sheet, said the team has learnt a lot from the past two international friendlies against Northern Ireland and Belarus. They will need to step up for the challenge of World No 63 in front of a packed-out parochial stadium.
The Stanislav Cherchesov-managed team has quality all over the park and the All Whites are well aware of their most threatening player.
Fyodor Smolov will be a player to contain up front. The Russian No 9 was dangerous in the recent 1-1 draw with Chile. He has been the Golden Boot winner the past two seasons in the Russian Premier League, with 38 goals from 51 appearances and is the hosts’ key play-maker.
At the other end of the pitch Georgiy Dzhikiya has big boots to fill at centre back. Russia have recently lost 221 Caps in their back three so the Spartak Moscow defender will play a key role.
Boxall said the All Whites’ preparation has been more about themselves. He added the home advantage for the Russia team, who are making their debut in the event, could play into their hands.
“Whenever you have a big tournament against these bigger nations there is never too much pressure on yourself, especially here with [potentially] 60,000 fans cheering on the home team. They are going to be feeling it. We are hoping that we can do great things for our country and we can’t wait to leave it all out there on the field,” he said.
One of the big talking points in 2017 for the All Whites has been belief and mentality. They believe that they can beat the biggest teams in the world through hard work, determination and quality football.
“Outside of this group there are very few people who rate us as a chance of going too far in this tournament, Russia included. The pressure of the crowd behind them, every single one of their mistakes is going to be magnified. What we want to do is silence the crowd so when we do we will be buzzing and jump on that.”
The stage is set for Anthony Hudson and his All Whites team to make a statement in St Petersburg on Saturday night.
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
Live on SKY Sport