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San Jose's Elliott on long, interesting path toward World Cup
by Ridge Mahoney, October 9th, 2009 4:45PM
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International travel is a luxury for most people, so when players who must cross time zones and continents to play for their clubs or national teams complain about fatigue and jet lag they don't always generate a lot of sympathy.

For a player like the San Jose Earthquakes' Simon Elliott, the relatively short hops taken by most MLS players to Concacaf nations are the luxury trips.

During his professional career in the United States and England Elliott's traveled extensively for New Zealand, which as a member of the Oceania confederation requires not only arduous flights of more than a dozen hours and many thousands of miles, but adapting to severely different conditions upon arrival.

"It's up there, but we've had a few," says Elliott, 35, and capped 62 times for the national team that plays at Bahrain on Saturday. "With New Zealand you get to go to some interesting places.

"Bahrain will be up there as far as the exotic nature of the place. It's still a kingdom, so you have one guy who kind of rules the roost. And I'm sure they'll be motivated to do well. Maybe the king will have something to offer, so there'll be everything to play for."

Archrival Australia, which for decades usually blocked New Zealand's path to the World Cup and other competitions through the Oceania corridor, moved to the Asian confederation several years ago and will head to South Africa as one of four Asian representatives. A fifth, Bahrain, knocked off Saudi Arabia in a two-game playoff to set up yet another playoff with a World Cup spot at stake.

The opponent? New Zealand, which Bahrain hosts in Manama. Though the Kiwis play in the Oceania confederation in official competitions at the senior level, they also play many members of the Asian confederation in friendlies and regional tournaments. So though he's never been to Bahrain, Elliott has visited a few of its neighbors.

"Lebanon was a good one," says Elliott. "You'd go down the street and half the buildings were just rubble and there were tanks everywhere. Going into Saudi Arabia was interesting, because that's kind of a closed kingdom. It took us about 17 ½ hours to get through customs, they looked through every bag and every nook and cranny. And then in our part of the world, places like Papau New Guinea are a little different to what perhaps you and I are used to."

After playing for San Jose last weekend, Elliott flew to Dubai for a training camp, where he met up with former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen, who plays in the English Premier League with Blackburn and like Elliott played college soccer at Stanford, and former UC Santa Barbara defender Tony Lochhead, a member of the Wellington Phoenix, which plays in Australia's pro league.

"It's nice to get back and see the guys, because we don't see each other that often," says Elliott of a squad that beat Jordan, 3-1, in a friendly last month after losing to Spain and South Africa and tying Iraq, 0-0, in the Confederations Cup. "It's a good little atmosphere in the last three or four years, so hopefully that holds us in good stead."

New Zealand is coached by Ricki Herbert, a member of the Kiwi team that qualified for the 1982 World Cup, its only appearance to date. Nelsen missed the Confederations Cup because of injury but has been training in Dubai and is expected to take the field when the teams meet in the first leg Saturday (11:30 a.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel) for a chance to join its archrival next summer in the World Cup. The second leg is Nov. 14 in Wellington.

"They're a deeper side and they've been a better side, and I think for some of the New Zealand guys they've had kind of a mental block in the past about playing Australia for some reason," says Elliott, who played every minute at the Confederations Cup. "It's nice to go a different route. I think guys are confident about how the team's been doing the last couple of years and we've certainly had enough games this year against quality opposition so we should be well-prepared."

 



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