World Cup Scouting: Netherlands / New Zealand

After a hugely impressive group stage performance at the European Championship two years ago (dispatching of France, Italy and Romania), the Netherlands will be desperate to replicate the same form beyond the first round this time around.

Despite only playing in one qualifying match during Holland’s road to South Africa, Eljero Elia could be Bert van Marwijk’s trump card in this summer’s tournament.

A skilful and tricky left winger with plenty of pace, Elia has impressed  the Dutch coach in time to make the final cut for the 23-man playing squad. The wide-man’s contribution of goals and assists acted as an irresistible charm for the Oranje management as the youngster made a late run into the fold.

Elia’s potential was underlined when he was awarded the prestigious ‘Dutch Football Talent of the Year’ in 2009, following in the illustrious footsteps of such Dutch superstars as Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder.

The 23-year-old started out with ADO Den Haag, making his debut at 17, however after differences with the management he was transferred to FC Twente. It was under the stewardship of Steve McClaren that Elia shined and became one of Holland’s hottest prospects. His electrifying performances attracted interest from around Europe, in the end he signed for German outfit Hamburg.

The Dutchman has continued to thrive abroad but admitted that the German fan culture is particularly suited to his playing style.

“In Germany, you don’t see a lot of tricked wingers. Whenever you do, the fans go wild. You saw it with Robben at Bayern, the Germans love it.”

However, an injury in the second-half of the season put a halt to a blistering start to the Bundesliga campaign where the youngster was looking a cert for selection.

Perhaps Elia’s biggest problem is the fact that Holland have wingers in the same mould, in the form of Robben and Ryan Babel, that are more established in the international setup.

Although Elia is undoubtedly unlikely to make the starting eleven in South Africa his presence from the substitutes bench could provide a useful weapon for van Marwijk, especially if the youngster can reproduce his productivity from club level.

Qualifying for the first time since 1982, New Zealand have benefitted from arch rivals Australia being moved to the Asian section for the 2010 World Cup.

Expected to lead the line in South Africa, Shane Smeltz will be New Zealand’s biggest goal threat in Group F of the tournament.

With an impressive goal ratio for the All Whites of better than a goal every other game, Smeltz has won the Oceania Player of the Year on two occasions, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. This is regardless of the much-travelled striker never being able to reach a particularly high standard of club football.

The German-born 28-year-old has played in England for Mansfield Town (albeit briefly), AFC Wimbledon and Halifax but never attracted attention from the upper regions of English football ladder, despite his 26 goals in 43 games for AFC Wimbledon.

Instead, Smeltz has started to carve a career in Australia’s A-League, initially impressing at Wellington Phoenix before making a move to Gold Coast United in 2009 where the forward has scored 19 goals in 26 appearances. Incredibly, Smeltz netted an astonishing nine goals on his debut for the Queensland-based club in a 12-1 friendly win.

His 19 goals in total for the season made him the new record holder in the A-League for most goals in a season.

With 15 goals for his country, Smeltz is aiming to beat the New Zealand’s international goal scoring record, although he still needs 13 to equal Vaughan Coveny. However, the current record holder is full of praise for Smeltz.

“If Shane goes on to beat my total then I will be delighted for him. That’s because I know how hard he has worked for his success, I’ve obviously played with him and he is a family friend. Shane is an exceptional striker. He deserves everything he has achieved so far.”

A calm and composed finisher, Smeltz might well be feeding on scraps in South Africa and will need to take every opportunity he can if New Zealand are to pull off one of biggest shocks of international football and qualify from a group containing Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.

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