Oceania Nations Cup Final Preview

STAN LAZARIDIS is Australia’s only injury concern, as the LG SOCCEROOS gear up to take on NEW ZEALAND in the FINAL of the OCEANIA NATIONS CUP in Tahiti tomorrow. LAZARIDIS rolled his ankle in Sunday’s 1-0 semi final victory over Vanuatu, but is confident he will be fit to start tomorrow’s Final. LG Socceroo Coach FRANK FARINA is set to start with t

STAN LAZARIDIS is Australia-s only injury concern, as the LG SOCCEROOS gear up to take on NEW ZEALAND in the FINAL of the OCEANIA NATIONS CUP in Tahiti tomorrow. LAZARIDIS rolled his ankle in Sunday-s 1-0 semi final victory over Vanuatu, but is confident he will be fit to start tomorrow-s Final. LG Socceroo Coach FRANK FARINA is set to start with the same line-up which beat both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu in the tournament, with defender STEPHEN LAYBUTT on standby, should Lazaridis not start.


MATCH: OCEANIA NATIONS CUP FINAL AUSTRALIA Vs NEW ZEALAND DATE: Wednesday 28th June (Tahiti)/Thursday 29th June (Australia) KICK-OFF: 8.00pm (Tahiti)/4.00pm (AEST) VENUE: Stade de Pater, Tahiti

What Captain PAUL OKON has to say on the big game … his future … and Australian Soccer Q You-ve never played against New Zealand at a senior level … what do you know about the team? PO I know there-s a very strong rivalry, I know that New Zealanders love to play against Australians, and I know that every game in the past has been very very difficult. Form prior to the actual game has never had a bearing on the result because both teams lift for the occasion, and we-re expecting exactly that tomorrow. I-ve played against New Zealand at both Olympic and youth levels, it-s the traditional rivalry in any sporting code between these two countries, and it-s going to be exactly the same tomorrow.

Q How much is avenging the 1-0 loss in the last final on the minds of the players? PO While not too many people in this squad were involved in that game, everyone knows the importance of beating New Zealand and going to the Confederations Cup, and I know that a lot of the boys will lift their performance for a number of reasons.

Q Although a win-s a win, it was a somewhat disappointing game against Vanuatu - is there anything in particular you think which caused the general flatness? PO I think when you look back, starting with 17 goals in the tournament is probably the worst thing we could have done. In saying that though, we-ve been together more than 20 days, played 6 games and we-re unbeaten, and I think everybody realised we weren-t going to lose against Vanuatu, we just lost the hunger to go out and score goals. The spirit of the team hasn-t changed much though - everyone knows that the performance wasn-t up to scratch, it certainly wasn-t how we know we can play, and I think it probably came at the right time - we know a similar performance against New Zealand will get us our backsides kicked, and I think in the end it could end up as a positive for us.

Q What-s going to happen in tomorrow-s final? PO I think we-ll come up against the toughest game that we-ve had since we-ve been together this time around - this is going to be our seventh game, and I think everyone-s happy that we-ve arrived at this point We-ll step up a gear - I have no doubts the team will go out there and do that, and the idea is to go out and get the result we need to win.

Q Do you feel it is a disadvantage, always being expected to win and always being the favourite in Oceania? PO No I don-t - I think it-s fair and I think it-s the right thing because we are the strongest of the Oceania countries. It is however a little bit difficult at times to be motivated to play games like we did in the first part of this competition - winning 17-0, without taking anything away from our opposition, isn-t really good for us, or them, and I think most of us in the future would like to see something done about that, some sort of way to avoid playing games where you-re winning - or losing - by such a margin.

Q Frank Farina continually speaks about concentration, motivation and shape … as Captain, how do you address this within the team? PO I think certainly in the first game, everyone had motivation because we opened the competition, but we didn-t expect to win by that many goals. It-s something that we-ve tried to do, to stay as focussed as possible before the game, to prepare for these games like we all prepare week in week out, but it-s difficult when you-re warming up, or getting changed for a game, and you hear no noise - a lot of the guys are used to playing in Europe, warming up in front of capacity crowds - here, we-re warming up in front of ourselves and it does take your concentration away from what you-re doing. I think you just have to try and do the best you can and I think everyone realises that if you don-t take it seriously, then you can be punished for it.

Q What-s your relationship like with Frank? PO It-s one of respect. I-ve always looked up to Frank as an example, both as a person, and a footballer. We-ve taken very similar paths … from Marconi, to Belgium to Italy, so to be playing under him, and as his Captain, in his first big step at the international level is a fantastic thing for me personally - I have only the utmost respect for him.

Q And finally, on the personal front, congratulations on your move to Middlesbrough - when do you start and how are you feeling about the move? PO Training starts on the 14th of next month, but I actually have an extra week off. Naturally, I-m very excited about moving to England, although leaving Italy after 4 years was a very difficult decision for me to make. In the end though, I have to think about my future and what-s best for my career, and moving to England will hopefully give me the chance to play regular football, that-s what- I-m hoping for, anyway. Middlesbrough is a Club with a lot of ambition, and while the Club hasn-t won anything major yet, speaking with Coach Bryan Robson, the understanding is the Club will do whatever possible to win something big in the near future, and if I can be part of that, then that-s fantastic. It will also be the first time I-ll have a fellow Australian, in Mark Schwarzer, in an overseas team with me, and that-s something new for me - actually, I think I-m about the fifth Australian there so that will really be a new experience.