New Zealand left Belfast a little disappointed last week, after coming up second best against Northern Ireland, 1-0. Ross County’s Liam Boyce scored the only goal in the match after only six minutes in a somewhat forgettable affair. Leeds United’s Chris Wood, however, will remember the match clearly because he took the captain’s armband for his country with the Kiwi’s regular captain, West Ham United’s Winston Reid, out with injury.
The Kiwis will face another friendly tune-up game before setting off to Russia for the Confederations Cup that starts on June 17th. They will face Belarus Monday, June 12, in Minsk. And while the record books of world football are not littered with the accomplishments of the boys from Belarus, Chris Wood knows not to take the Eastern European team lightly. As quoted by the New Zealand Football website:
“They had a good win and we expect they will be full of confidence leading into this game. It is going to be tough but we will be ready. We are gearing up for the Russia game. The ultimate goal is to be at our peak for the opening game of the tournament. This is another step in our preparation.”
Belarus is coming off of a 2-1 win in a World Cup 2018 qualifying match against Bulgaria in the Borisov Arena in Barysaw. The win gives Belarus five points after six games, and they are eight points behind Group A leader Sweden.
New Zealand expects a tough, physical game from Belarus, which they predict will give them a good preview of what it will be like to play Russia, who the Kiwis will open the Confederations Cup against in St Petersburg. New Zealand is drawn into a group with Russia, Mexico, and Portugal, and while many expect the Kiwis to struggle, the Confederations Cup is always good for a surprise or two. Who knows, if things go their way, New Zealand might face off against former Oceania foe Australia in the finals. The Socceroos are in the other group along with Chile, Cameroon, and Germany. Stranger things have happened.