Smith prepares to make World Cup debut

Tommy Smith will play in the biggest game of his life this afternoon, when the Ipswich Town defender makes his debut in the World Cup.

TOMMY Smith will play in the biggest game of his life this afternoon, when the Ipswich Town defender makes his debut in the World Cup.

Smith will start for New Zealand against Slovakia in a Group F fixture in Rustenburg at lunchtime (kick-off 12.30pm), almost certainly operating on the left side of a three-man central defence.

Manager Ricki Herbert has already named his starting line-up, and Smith has been handed his fifth cap for the All Whites, who will be bidding to claim their first ever win at the World Cup finals.

New Zealand have only appeared once before at the World Cup – in 1982, when they lost all three of their group matches.

Smith will be hoping to rectify that record, starting against Slovakia, although it would be a major upset if the Kiwis were to reach the second round of the tournament, not least because defending champions Italy and dark horses Paraguay are also in the group.

“It’s very exciting, although it didn’t really sink in that I was going to play in the World Cup until we arrived in South Africa,”

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admitted Smith.

“There’s so much hype surrounding it.

“After watching the opening games, you realise just how massive the tournament is. The nerves are there, that’s only natural I think.

“But there is a great deal of excitement to be involved in the tournament and the challenge ahead,” added Smith.

Smith has the distinction of being the only Ipswich Town representative at the World Cup – even manager Roy Keane turned down the chance to be a TV pundit in South Africa.

The 20-year-old, who can also operate as a left-back, has dual citizenship, having spent much of his youth in New Zealand. He decided to make himself available for the All-Whites shortly before they qualified for the World Cup finals.

Smith made his international debut in a friendly fixture against Mexico, played in Los Angeles in March, and his return to the Ipswich Town team during the final few weeks of last season gave him that all-important boost to make the final World Cup squad.

Smith recognised that his return to the Ipswich starting line-up, after a previous spell on loan at League One club Brentford, did him a power of good to make this a summer to remember. Keane recalled him to the team following an injury to fellow defender Damien Delaney.

“Obviously with me playing those last three games at the end of the season, that helped me greatly,” admitted Smith.

“It obviously helped with getting match-fit, and the standard that I was playing was as high, if not higher, than most of the other players in the squad.”

Smith featured in Town’s last five games of the campaign, including starting the last three games against Doncaster, Newcastle and Sheffield United, as Keane’s men ended the season in 15th spot in the Championship.

Smith will be one of four England-based players to line-up for the All Whites. The other are Plymouth striker Rory Fallon and Middlesbrough’s Chris Killen, who will lead the front-line, while Blackburn defender Ryan Nelsen captains the side.

Manager Herbert named his side yesterday afternoon, with Ivan Vicelich coming into the midfield in place of Tim Brown, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

The main feature of this year’s tournament, to date, has been the incessant noise created from fans blowing the local plastic horns, known as vuvuzelas.

And Smith predicts that the din will have an impact on today’s game.

“They are making an impact because the noise makes it almost impossible to give instructions to other players,” confirmed Smith.

“You just can’t hear what the other players are saying, so it’s going to be another challenge.”

Smith’s previous four appearances for his country have all been in friendlies, against Mexico, Australia, Serbia and Slovenia.

After today’s match, the All Whites have further group matches against Italy on Sunday and then Paraguay on Thursday, June 24.

New Zealand team: Paston, Reid, Nelsen (capt), Smith, Bertos, Vicelich, Elliott, Lockhead, Smeltz, Fallon, Killen.

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