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Australia's rivalry with New Zealand shifts to soccer

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Greg Buckle

MELBOURNE, June 18 (Reuters) - Australia coach Frank Farina knows few things are sweeter for New Zealanders than beating their neighbours in a sporting contest and he predicts this week's World Cup qualifier will be "hot and heavy". "We all know when we play against New Zealand in any code, they are very competitive, and I expect nothing less when they face us in the next two games," Farina said before Wednesday's first leg.

If New Zealand wanted to play a physical style of game in Wellington, they should be aware Australia were "no shrinking violets", Farina said. "It's going to get hot and heavy out there," Farina said. "We've got a few tough nuts too. If it starts to get physical I'm sure the referee will sort it out. But our emphasis will be on playing football." Australia will host the second leg of the playoff in Sydney on Sunday. The Oceania winner will play the fifth-placed South American team for a place in next year's World Cup finals.

A victory by New Zealand would not only boost the nation's pride but inflict embarrassment upon Australia, just like their wins in the 1982 and 1990 World Cup qualifying campaigns did. Australia, the world champions of rugby union, a game so long dominated by New Zealand, have just returned from the Confederations Cup in South Korea and Japan where they beat France and Brazil, ranked first and second in the world.

New Zealand coach Ken Dugdale says his team are clearly the underdogs. "The boys know they have to step up to the plate, but the Kiwi-Australian rivalry is a big plus for me as a coach," Dugdale said on Monday. "We know they're good, but they're not Supermen." Farina has overlooked Leeds United pair, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, for the playoffs because he says they are not physically and mentally prepared.

Dugdale hinted New Zealand would concentrate on defence in the Wellington leg, so that "we're still in the tie in Sydney". Farina also expects New Zealand to play it tight. "(They will) try to spoil us more than anything and probably play on the counter-attack," Farina said. "They'll be tough, they'll be wound up with a full stadium, wanting to do well, but the beauty for us is that we now have players who are used to that." Australia have not made the World Cup finals since 1974 while New Zealand qualified in 1982. Australia went desperately close four years ago, led by former England boss Terry Venables. They led 2-0 late in the decisive game before a crowd of 85,000 at Melbourne Cricket Ground before a deranged man ran on to the ground and tore down a goal net. The subsequent delay effectively broke Australia's rhythm.

Goals in the 77th and 80th minutes gave Iran a 2-2 draw and a place in the 1998 World Cup finals on the away goals rule after a 1-1-draw in Iran.

Australia's sporting rivalry with New Zealand is intense on several fronts, particularly rugby union and netball.

Australia beat New Zealand in a bruising netball match in Sydney on Saturday but the Kiwis emerged with overall victory in the Tri-Nations series that included South Africa. Australia defeated the Kiwis in last year's rugby league World Cup final at Old Trafford. Australia's cricket team, world champions in one-day games and test matches, toured New Zealand last year, winning the test series 3-0 on their way to a world record streak of 16 wins. Trans-Tasman relations soured in 1981 when Australia captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of a one-day game against New Zealand underarm to prevent tailender Brian McKechnie hitting a six to win the match.

While legal, the tactic was considered against the spirit of the game and drew a strong reaction from New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon and widespread condemnation.

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