Rugby takes the back seat

WELLINGTON - New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen and coach Ricki Herbert are failing miserably in their attempt to hose down public expectations ahead of Saturday's World Cup playoff against Bahrain.

WELLINGTON - New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen and coach Ricki Herbert are failing miserably in their attempt to hose down public expectations ahead of Saturday's World Cup playoff against Bahrain.

New Zealand have only qualified for the World Cup finals once before, in 1982, but are suddenly on the verge of making a second appearance.

They drew 0-0 away to Bahrain in Manama last month, leaving everything to play for in Saturday's return leg at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.

The expectation in rugby-mad New Zealand is rising by the day and even Nelsen and Herbert admitted they were struggling to contain their excitement.

"There is nothing bigger," Nelsen told reporters in Wellington.

"It's bigger than the Olympics 100m final ... I've just put a bit more pressure on us haven't I?"

Herbert, a mainstay in the centre of defence in the All Whites side that qualified for the 1982 finals, is also caught up in the excitement.

"It's the biggest sporting event in the world and to be able to be part of that is something that is very exciting," he said.

"We want to deliver another World Cup opportunity for the country. We have got a great balanced side. There is a lot of experience and there is a lot of feeling around that."

The game has sold out with capacity increased by 1000 temporary seats to 35500 - the largest crowd to watch a soccer match in New Zealand.

More than 17 000 tickets were sold in less than five days after last month's goalless draw and Herbert said he was overawed by the public response.

"The stadium is full, so it has captured a lot of people's imagination," he said. - Reuters

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