oceaniafootball.com sat down with former All White and most capped New Zealand player Ivan Vicelich to discover more about his passion for the World Cup and his experiences as a player and a spectator.
The biggest sporting event in world, the FIFA World Cup™ starts in less than a day, what do the two words ‘World Cup’ mean to you?
It is the number one sport and event in the world and it is a special time for the players. It is a dream to play in a World Cup. Every kid in the world dreams of playing in a World Cup and I can’t believe that four years have run around so quickly. We are on the doorstep of the kick-off of another tournament. I am really looking forward to watching the best players on stage.
You were on this stage four years ago with New Zealand, is the upcoming tournament bringing back memories for you?
It is a great memory for me and the players as well. To look back now and realise I have played in a World Cup is something really special. It is disappointing this time we are not taking part but remembering those times is pretty amazing in itself. In particular a special time for me was in the tunnel before the first game. Standing there waiting to walk on to the field. Understanding I am going to take the field in a World Cup game – that was a very special moment. I’ve thought about it over the past few weeks, these emotions.
Coming back to the game against Bahrain and the qualification for the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, can you describe your emotions?
At that time it was incredible! It is obviously an ecstatic moment in front of a full stadium in Wellington. To finally qualify after 28 years, it is a great achievement in football and in sports in general for New Zealand.
The time between the day you qualified and the World Cup might have been hard to manage like to prevent injuries?
We see it now, there are a lot of injuries before the World Cup. At the end, you need to keep playing football and train the way you do. You keep thinking about the ‘what ifs’. What if I get injured? What if I miss it? What if I get sick or am not selected? But you have to train and play the normal way you do, to have confidence the selection might happen and you will be fit to go across.
What was your reaction when you did learn about the draw and your opponents who were Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay?
Once the draw was done, it was a little bit daunting, we had the current champions Italy, Slovakia, a European side with good players and Paraguay, a good and experienced side. But the reality is in the World Cup every team is a good team. I think the preparation we had prior to the World Cup was positive. We had some good results, some good games and I think that had prepared us very well for the tournament. The good preparation has grown the confidence of the team up.
New Zealand drew 1-1 with the reigning champions Italy, how did you feel after this result?
We have proven to a lot of countries that football in New Zealand is growing. We have shown that with the players we have we can perform at the world stage with credibility and we deserved to be in that tournament.
You finished the tournament as the only undefeated team with three consecutive draws. How did you perceive this good performance?
It is special to have that result and to be undefeated. But the disappointment was there to not go through the next round. Of course when we look back we see it was a good performance but at the time we were a bit disappointed. In tournaments you want to do well but we can be very proud the way we perform.
Could these results have had a good impact on the young generation who are now playing for the All Whites?
The new generation really wants to play for his country and represent New Zealand well at the international stage. We have a good quality of players who have three years to prepare the next phase of the qualifiers. If the team is well prepared with more international games we can have another chance to see New Zealand at the World Cup. But it is a very difficult path to qualify. We saw it last time against Mexico, but the players have a lot of talent and play in different clubs all around the world. This is great and that experience will help a lot.
Did you have World Cup fever at home when you were young?
When I was young we used to watch football all the time. When the World Cup came around we tried to watch it from home or record it. The rooms of my brother and I were covered with posters and you couldn’t see the wallpaper! We had the dream to be professional football players and maybe part of a World Cup. The dream came true for me.
You’re a defender but who was the player you identified with when you were younger?
I used to watch Italy and Franco Baresi was the player who inspired me a lot. He was a great player and one of the top defender in the world.
Which World Cup did give you the best memories?
The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ obviously gave me the best memories. But as a spectator the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ when the Croatian team finished third. It is special for me and my family as well. If I remember I was on holiday in Croatia at the time. That was a good performance and an incredible time for this small nation. You can pick moments in every World Cup but I would say 1998 and 2010 are very special for me.
What are your predictions for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™?
It is difficult to pick a winner. I think you have to look at countries like Argentina or Brazil, they are in their continent and are very good teams. European teams are very strong at the moment with Germany and Spain. It is hard to predict who will go through. I hope Croatia can perform well, they have a group of good quality players but they have a difficult group and a difficult first game against the hosts.