Rory Fallon: New Zealand have to make sure we're all white on the night

13 November 2009 12:58
While World Cup attention is focused on the fortunes of France and Portugal as play-off fever hits on Saturday, on the other side of the globe two smaller nations will fight it out for a place in next summer's finals.

Up for it: Rory Fallon (14) insists New Zealand's World Cup play-off clash against Bahrain is 'bigger than Beckham'

New Zealand face Bahrain in the second leg of their play-off for a place at next summer's showpiece in South Africa.

The Kiwis have been here before, qualifying for the 1982 finals in Spain, but Bahrain are hoping for a first appearance at the finals.

It's the All Whites versus The Reds at a stadium known as theCake Tin Wellington's Westpac Stadium in a country where footballtrails behind rugby and netball in popularity.

It'sall to play for in 90 minutes (plus extra time and penalties, unlessaway goals settle it) after the first leg in Manama ended 0-0.

Plymouth and New Zealand striker Rory Fallon explains why this particular match is 'bigger than Beckham'.

 The interestNew Zealand haven't had a sniff of the World Cup finals since their only qualification in 1982 and this chance has really got people excited.

There are banners all over the place highlighting the game and the television crews have even filmed us eating breakfast as a squad.

The stadium in Wellington has been sold out for ages and fans are just going mad for tickets. It holds 35,500 and they would have added more seats if they had been allowed.

It should still be one of the biggest attendances in New Zealand's sporting history though, after the rugby.

Becks appeal: David Beckham exchanges a traditional Maori greeting when he arrived in Wellington for a friendly with LA Galaxy - and Fallon expects his team-mates will enjoy a similar reception if they win

When David Beckham came over with LA Galaxy and played a friendly against Wellington

Phoenix two years ago they got about 25,000 fans at the game so this one is bigger than Beckham. It is going to be huge.

I arrived on Tuesday morning and we have been training twice a day in Porirua, which has been pretty tiring after the flight over.

I have been nursing a problem with my achilles too but that hasn't stopped me. I scored for Plymouth on Saturday with it and know it will be OK for the Bahrain game.

Talking to the other lads, everyone has been looking forward to this game so much they have been trying to take special care of themselves so that they are fit to play because it is so big.

Our captain, Ryan Nelsen, who plays for Blackburn, said on TV that it is bigger than the Olympic 100metres final, so you get the picture about how important it is to us.

My second chanceYou could say it is bigger for me than for anyone. The game against Bahrain will be only my third for New Zealand, after the first leg and a friendly.

I thought my chance to play in a big tournament had gone because after moving to Barnsley from New Zealand when I was 15, I played for England from Under 17s to Under 20s.

Club call: Fallon in action for Plymouth

The squads I was in included players such as Jermain Defoe, Jermaine Pennant, Jay Bothroyd and Kevin Nolan, but the rules then meant I was disqualified from playing for New Zealand.

It wasn't a problem at first. I wanted to concentrate on my club career and managers hate you going to play a friendly when you don't need to travel all that way.

I started at Barnsley, after a coaching friend of my dad's alerted them, and moved to Swindon and Swansea before joining Plymouth in 2007, but as I have got older I started to think I had made a mistake.

A few of my mates were going to the Confederations Cup and playing against teams like Brazil and I felt like I was missing out.

When Tim Cahill got FIFA to change their rules I was still too old to switch back to New Zealand, but they have altered them again since and now I could be going to the World Cup finals.

RORY FALLON FACTFILEBorn: 20 March 1982 in Gisbourne, New Zealand.Clubs: Barnsley, Shrewsbury (loan), Swindon, Yeovil (loan), Swansea, Plymouth.

League appearances: 285. Goals: 61.Caps: 2. Goals: 1.

Style: A 6ft 2in target man who is dangerous in the air but no slouch with the ball at his feet. A record signing when he was bought for £300,000 in January 2007, he is popular with Plymouth fans after a match-winning brace against local rivals Bristol City last season. 

It is great to play at full international level and stepping up from the lower end of the Championship has not been as difficult as you might think.

Things have started to look up for us at Plymouth and back-to-back wins against Middlesbrough and Doncaster means we are finally out of the relegation zone and my spirits are high.

I have integrated with the national team pretty well too. It has helped that I have known many of the other players for a long time and now we are just one game away from the World Cup. It is just awesome.

Breathing easily againWe did well to get a draw in Bahrain in difficult circumstances. They are a good side who gave Australia a tough time and we had to defend really well.

The conditions made it difficult for us. It was so hot and humid, it felt like there wasn't any air.

In Muslim countries you hear the call to prayer and the crowd's chanting sounded a bit like that and went on for the whole game, so it was quite daunting.

Captain marvel: Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelsen will skipper New Zealand in their crucial World Cup play-off tie

Wellington will be very different and hopefully we can make the most of home advantage.

The weather here is cold, wet and windy at the moment a bit like the UK but Bahrain have based themselves in Sydney where it is about 25C and I'm not sure that was a good move.

It's a family affairThe last New Zealand squad who qualified for the World Cup finals have been invited to the game against Bahrain as guests of honour and that includes my dad Kevin.

He is a football icon in New Zealand because he helped coach the country to their only finals appearance in 1982. Not surprisingly, he has been on TV quite a lot recently.

  I was born in the March just before those finals in Spain and throughout my childhood it was the only thing that was brought up whenever the All Whites were mentioned. If it was football, it was the '82 World Cup.

Football in New Zealand has been in the dark days for long time, but things are picking up now and a place in the finals will take them to a new level.

Then everyone will have something new to talk about.

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 Explore more:People:Ryan Nelsen, Jay Bothroyd, David Beckham, Jermain Defoe, Kevin NolanPlaces:Sydney, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, Portugal, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, France

Source: Daily_Mail