New Zealand heads to the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 with a rejuvenated squad and a coach debuting at a world tournament in English-born Anthony Hudson. New Zealand won last year’s OFC Nations Cup to secure a return to the Confederations Cup for the first time in nine years, where they will face Portugal, Mexico and hosts Russia
What are New Zealand’s key strengths and what can supporters look out for when the team takes the field in Russia?
Anthony Hudson: We have a lot of challenges facing our team in terms of logistics with our players based all around the world. And we don’t have a lot of games against top teams. Those sort of things that go against us are actually our strength. We won’t be coming to this tournament and defending, sitting back and [seeking] damage limitation – that is totally the opposite to what we are. We are a team that will come [to Russia], be brave and want to win games. We will have an incredible work ethic. So those are the some of the qualities people will see. We have a huge amount of belief in the squad.
What are you expectations for the tournament taking on some of the best teams in the world?
We are not coming to just take part and make up the numbers. We want to beat some of the best teams in the world, we want to come and perform and cause some upsets. We are in a position now where no one expects anything from us. We come into the tournament as the smallest team and that suits us.
Looking back to your qualification, what was going through your mind when Marco Rojas took that final kick in the OFC Nations Cup penalty shoot-out?
Me personally, and I speak for the team as well, we had no doubt that we would win the tournament. We were incredibly prepared, we had a huge amount of belief, we had so much determination because of what happened four years before, which was a real dark cloud over the team and the players that whole time. We were just incredibly focused on what we had to do. I have been in penalty shoot-outs before and I have been quite nervous, but in that one I don’t think we had any doubts at all.
How much do the attributes of the team reflect your own philosophy?
You always have to adapt to the players you have. We haven’t always had a consistent group of players in the past two years, and we have had to adapt to the way we played. My core beliefs about the game is that when we play against teams that are better than us, we have to work incredibly hard to stop them playing. It is my belief that when we go into games we try to win, I want to be brave.
What does (captain) Winston Reid bring to the squad as a professional in English Premier League with West Ham, both on and off the pitch?
Winston [Reid] is obviously our captain, and is an incredibly important player to us. For me, he is one of the best defenders in the world. He has a huge influence on the team. I could talk at length about Winston, but our success is going to be based on the success of our team. The good thing about Winston is that he understands that, and he is a true team player.
I am quite fortunate that I have a squad full of really honest players, and we all understand that our success is based upon a group of players who are together fighting for the same cause. No one is bigger than the team. In order for us to beat bigger teams and overachieve, we have to be just that – a strong team. So Winston is incredibly important but no important than the team together, but we have other important and very good senior players that have been incredible for us in the past couple of years – Chris Wood, Michael McGlinchey, Michael Boxall. These guys have been so committed and consistent for us.
We also have some incredible younger players coming through that have really been thrown in at the deep end. Some of them don’t even have a professional careers themselves, and are trying to make their way in the game, but have been thrown into the national team and been asked to help the team win a Nations Cup, win qualifiers and they have all stepped up and done incredibly well. We really do have a real mixture but we have a common theme – we are all about the team.
Ideally you will return to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, but how is team progressing over this current World Cup qualifying cycle so far?
We know we will come into this tournament and people will see us as the eighth team that will get hammered by everyone. We are quietly happy with that. We are rubbing our hands together and we can’t wait to come for this tournament. It hasn’t been a straight forward couple of years. We have played only one game at home and the other last 15, 16, 17 have all been away from home.
In the last 10 or 11 games we have had one loss away from home. We have gone to places like USA and Mexico and could have come away with a whole lot more because we were very strong in those games. We drew with USA and lost narrowly against Mexico, and again we did it with players on the pitch some of whom are young semi-professional kids. We have an incredible amount of belief in the squad that if we keep working the way we are, we keep our belief, then we can do something special. We know we can. I like people seeing us as the smallest team here because when we show up [in Russia] we are going to be a surprise to quite a few people.