Tuesday 21 March 2017, 12:02

Stalwarts’ trophy visit thrills Kiwi kids

New Zealand has become the second stop on a tour of all eight nations represented at this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, with Gilberto Silva, Ivan Vicelich and the trophy itself the star attractions.

Vicelich, New Zealand’s most-capped player and a veteran of three Confederations Cup, led his Brazilian colleague – a two-time winner at the tournament of champions – on a series of events that included a visit to Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital. They also enjoyed a get-together with All Whites coach Anthony Hudson and one of the team’s young players, Clayton Lewis, in which opinions and experiences were shared ahead of Russia 2017.

New Zealand have been drawn in Group A with Mexico, Portugal and the hosts in this year’s edition, which runs from 17 June to 2 July, and will face Russia in the tournament’s opening match. The scale of the challenge facing them is apparent to Vicelich, who in nine appearances spread across the 1999, 2003 and 2009 editions avoided defeat just once, suffering defeats to the likes of Brazil, Germany and Spain along the way.

He nonetheless considers those experiences to have been invaluable to the development of a New Zealand team that emerged unbeaten from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and says the class of 2017 should approach the tournament full of hope and excitement.

You have to win your continental championship just to get there, so we know we’re playing against really elite teams.

“We’re playing the champions of champions,” said the 40-year-old, who retired from international football in 2013 but still plays on for Auckland City. “You have to win your continental championship just to get there, so we know we’re playing against really elite teams.

“We know it’s going to be very difficult. But we’ve proved in recent friendlies against Mexico and USA that we’re capable of competing at that level.”

Gilberto Silva was in full agreement with Vicelich’s positive assessment, and pointed to an experience from one of his Confederations Cup triumphs to emphasise that upsets are far from impossible.

“Everyone has a chance,” said the former Brazil midfielder. “To give you an example, in 2009 we played a very tough final against the USA. At that time, no-one paid much attention to the US but they had a great competition, beat Spain and gave us a lot of trouble before we eventually won 3-2.”

Now, as New Zealand’s preparations for Russia gather momentum, the tour of the trophy - having begun in Australia and New Zealand - will move on once again. Its next stop: Portugal, home of the European champions.