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Teams starting to notice us, says Kiwi captain

Teams are starting to take notice of minnows New Zealand after two credible warm-up matches, says captain and Blackburn Rovers star Ryan Nelson.

sports Updated: Jun 02, 2010 12:56 IST

Teams are starting to sit up and take notice of minnows New Zealand after two credible World Cup warm-up matches, says captain and Blackburn Rovers star Ryan Nelson.

The All Whites, considered rank outsiders in South Africa, were unfortunate to lose 2-1 to Australia in Melbourne last week before stunning Serbia 1-0 on Saturday.

Nelson, the long-serving Blackburn centre-half and his country's most high-profile player, said it had been perfect preparation for only New Zealand's second World Cup finals.

"It was only this group of players who knew we were a decent team. Unfortunately now, with the results against Australia and Serbia, other teams are starting to realise that," he told Fifa.com.

"We were hoping to fly under the radar a bit. Now teams will probably take us more seriously. We will keep going about our business. We are doing well but we have a lot of work to do before we get to South Africa."

The team are in Austria ahead of their final warm-up against Slovenia on Friday and Nelson said he felt the team had enough experience to cause problems for their Group F opponents Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.

"Everybody is pretty experienced in their own right," said Nelson, who follows in the footsteps of Steve Sumner, who donned the captain's armband at New Zealand's only other World Cup appearance at Spain 1982.

"This team pretty much has 18 or so players that have been around the block a few times and know what is required." Nelson, who made his debut in 1999, said it was the best squad he had known. "This is by far the best team I have ever been involved in. We have players playing at a high level," he said.

"Our four strikers are all playing at a really good level or have done well in their respective competition. We have experience at the back, we have keepers that are experienced and guys like Simon Elliot that have been around forever as well. We have a really nice balance around the squad now and we have a bit more depth as well."

In addition to Nelson, the All Whites boast Shane Smeltz up front while Middlesbrough's Chris Killen brings experience. Others playing in Europe include Rory Fallon of Plymouth, Michael McGlinchey (Motherwell), Winston Reid (FC Midtjylland), Tommy Smith (Ipswich) and Chris Wood (West Bromwich Albion). The Kiwis kick off in Rustenburg on June 15 against Slovakia, before facing Italy in Nelspruit on June 20. Paraguay are their final group opponents four days later.