Beckham, Galaxy arrive in New Zealand
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Having conquered Australia, soccer superstar David Beckham faced a harder sell Thursday when he jetted into New Zealand for the second match of the Los Angeles Galaxy's tour Down Under.
If rugby-mad New Zealand falls to his charms, the England midfielder will have pulled off an exceptional piece of football conversion.
Soccer is a minor sport in New Zealand, widely played by school children but followed by few adults in a nation of four million people obsessed with rugby.
Organizers of the Galaxy's match against the Wellington Phoenix on Saturday hope to break the all-time record for a soccer crowd in New Zealand, the 31,000 mark set in 1982 when New Zealand played Kuwait on the way to that year's World Cup finals.
By the time of Beckham's arrival Thursday, almost 30,000 tickets had been sold and around 5,000 more remained to be sold before full house signs could be displayed at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.
The largest crowd the Phoenix have drawn, in their inaugural season in Australia's A-League this year, is just over 14,000.
Beckham captivated Australia during his first visit there, playing all 90 minutes of the Galaxy's match against Sydney FC and thrilling 80,000 fans at that match with a goal from a curling free kick. Sydney won 5-3.
The Galaxy and Phoenix agreed to a contract specifying Beckham will play at least 55 minutes of the match in Wellington on Saturday. Though he suffered a minor ankle injury during the Sydney match -- where he also had a 55-minute provision in his contract -- he has insisted he will be ready to play.
Beckham and Galaxy teammates arrived in Wellington around midday Thursday on a scheduled commercial flight. He was greeted at Wellington Airport by thousands of fans -- many of them teenage girls -- and a party of indigenous Maori, among them a fierce, spear-carrying warrior, who delivered a ceremonial challenge.
The bare-chested warrior, wearing a traditional facial tattoo and brandishing a wooden spear, approached Beckham with a series of threatening gestures and laid a dart at his feet.
The manner in which the dart is picked up reveals whether a visitor's intentions are friendly or hostile. Beckham's acceptance of it marked him as a friend.
The Galaxy will hold an open training session at Westpac Stadium on Friday which is expected to attract around 15,000 people, most of them pupils from local schools. Beckham and teammates will attend the Phoenix's scheduled A-League match against Adelaide in Wellington on Friday night.
Security during his visit will be tight.
"He has a team of two personal bodyguards who are solely for him," Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said.