The All Whites might not have the same profile as Didier
Drogba and Nicolas Anelka but the average football fan in China
should be able to identify one of the touring party for
Wednesday night's international.
Those with a reasonable football memory will remember the
tall figure of 84-cap All White Ivan Vicelich who enjoyed a
fruitful five months with then-Chinese Super League club
Shenzhen Ruby in the 2010 season.
"I've had a bit of contact from people I met during my time
in Shenzhen asking me if I was making the trip across and
playing," Vicelich said. "Some might recognise me, but my
time there was pretty short and sweet."
Shenzhen finished 12th out of the 16 teams at the conclusion
of his stint, with Vicelich playing 14 matches at centre back
After his return to New Zealand the Auckland City captain
made a prediction about the future of club football in China,
comparing it to Japan's J-League which benefited from an
influx of older ex-internationals.
Fast-forward two years and the Drogba and Anelka have made
the move to the world's most populous nation, kick-starting
renewed interest in football after a difficult period for the
"There were already a lot of foreigners when I was there, but
what they're doing now is bringing in a few big name ones to
create a buzz," said Vicelich.
"The potential in China is huge. There was so much room for
improvement when I was there and obviously with such a big
population and their wealth the ability to do that is a lot
Vicelich has since been back to China, captaining the All
Whites in a 1-1 draw with China in Wuhan in March last year.
"It was a tough game, we got a good result that night after
going behind early," he said.
Vicelich is predicting a similarly difficult night in front
of a potentially packed house at the 33,000-seat Shanghai
Hongkou Football Stadium.
"With the national team playing in Shanghai it should be
buzzing. There's a population of about 23 million so
hopefully we get a good crowd."
APNZ ks lb