SIX Wellington Phoenix players and head coach Ricki Herbert face the biggest match of their careers on Saturday night when New Zealand take on Bahrain in a do-or-die World Cup qualifying match in Wellington.
While the entire country has been swept by football fever, the biggest match for New Zealand football in 27 years will be somewhat bittersweet for one Wellington Phoenix player.
Daniel Cortes, the Phoenix-s Brazilian-turned-Kiwi star, would dearly love to be taking the field alongside his Phoenix teammates Leo Bertos, Tim Brown, Tony Lochhead, David Mulligan, Ben Sigmund and Mark Paston at Westpac Stadium for Saturday-s massive showdown. The 29-year-old, from Niteroi in Brazil, became a New Zealand citizen last year after joining the Phoenix for their inaugural season in the Hyundai A-League in 2007/08.
Daniel had hoped his new citizenship would allow him to immediately represent his adopted country during its World Cup qualifying campaign but FIFA regulations mean he will have to wait till 2012 for his first taste of international football with New Zealand.
“That is my dream. Now it is not possible but I hope I will be able to play for New Zealand one day – I must wait. It is difficult for me but I have my friends from the Phoenix involved in the game and I will be at Westpac Stadium as a fan on Saturday night. It will be a big night for everybody – for the country, for the players.
“I think I will be able to sing the New Zealand national anthem but I may have to practice a little more.”
Like every proud New Zealand football fan, Daniel is confident the Kiwis will win on Saturday night and book their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
“I think New Zealand has a very good chance. We need to attack because we are at home and there will be 36,000 people in the stadium.”
Daniel, himself a penalty specialist, doesn-t believe the match will be decided by a shootout.
“I think New Zealand will win 2-0 inside the 90 minutes. That will be great for the whole country and will be incredible for the game here. When I came here in 2007 no one would talk about football. Since the Phoenix and now with the All Whites, that has changed and everyone is talking football.”
Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante will also be throwing his support behind New Zealand. His home country, Australia, has already qualified for next year-s big event but Durante desperately wants New Zealand to be there too.
“That-d be amazing. Now that I live in New Zealand and I-m so close to the action and the hype, the All Whites have become my ‘second- team. Hopefully they get there.”
Durante said the Bahrainis would be a tough proposition on Saturday night.
“They-re a very good team. They like to attack and they-ve got some very good players up front. The key is keeping them scoreless and that-ll be difficult, but Siggy (Phoenix and All Whites defender Sigmund) and Ryan Nelsen will be very hard to break down.
“Hopefully Smeltzy (All Whites and former Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz) or one of the big boys up front can sneak a cheeky goal and win it inside 90 minutes – that-d be great. I reckon it-ll be 1-0 to New Zealand.”