New Zealand Michael Boxall Mark Paston El Salvador
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Boxall and All Whites take next step in FIFA World Cup qualifying

With Major League Soccer clubs are on a short break, national teams around the soccer world are in the midst of playing friendlies and preparing for important matches. A week today, this year’s UEFA European Championship (EURO 2012) begins in Poland and Ukraine. As for the rest of the world, the quest to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil heats up with the latest round of qualifying games.

Among the many players that will proudly don their national colours over the next couple of weeks is Vancouver Whitecaps FC centre back Michael Boxall (pictured left), as he looks to lead his native New Zealand a step closer to Brazil 2014 and an Oceania title. Recalled to Ricki Herbert’s squad after making three appearances for the All Whites last year, the 23-year-old has been with his national team over the past two weeks, as New Zealand played two friendlies in Texas.

While his Whitecaps FC teammates will have to wait until next year to play in Houston, Boxall earned his fourth international cap for New Zealand by playing a full 90 minutes in the newly-built BBVA Compass Stadium, as they drew 2-2 with El Salvador on May 23. The ‘Caps defender got on the scoresheet, but not in the manner he would have liked, as a second-half cross from El Salvador’s Rafael Burgos took a big deflection off Boxall before finding the back of the New Zealand net. The former University of California, Santa Barbara, stand-out was undeterred by his misfortune when New Zealand faced another Central American opponent in Honduras on May 26. Boxall played the second half of the friendly at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, with the All Whites claiming a creditable 1-0 victory on a fine header from striker Shane Smeltz.

The two Texas friendlies served as preparation for this year’s Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Nations Cup, with Herbert’s squad currently in the Solomon Islands ahead of their first match versus Fiji on Saturday. As defending Oceania champions, the All Whites will also play Papua New Guinea on Monday before completing their Group B schedule versus hosts Solomon Islands on Wednesday. The top two teams in each of the two groups at the 2012 OFC Nations Cup will advance to the third and final round of World Cup qualifying in the Oceania region, as well as the tournament semifinals next Friday. The winner of the OFC Nations Cup final on Sunday, June 10, will represent Oceania at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

You can follow Boxall and New Zealand during their quest for a second straight OFC Nations Cup title through live streaming of the tournament’s games by clicking here.