David Beckham, Galaxy arrive in New Zealand

David Beckham faced a harder sell on Thursday when he jetted into New Zealand for the second match of the Los Angeles Galaxy's tour Down Under.

updated: November 30, 2007 09:24 IST
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand:

Having conquered Australia, soccer superstar David Beckham faced a harder sell on 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 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 union.

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 for the match at Wellington's Westpac Stadium and around 5,000 more remained to be sold before full house signs could be displayed.

The largest crowd the Phoenix have drawn, in there 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.

A contract agreed between the Galaxy and Phoenix specifies Beckham will play at least 55 minutes of the match in Wellington on Saturday. Though he suffered a minor knock to his ankle during the Sydney match - where he also had a 55-minute provision in his contract - he has insisted he will be fit enough to honour that commitment.

Beckham and Galaxy team-mates 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 taiaha (spear), approached Beckham with a series of threatening gestures and expressions and laid at his feet a taki, or dart.

The taki forms a crucial part of the welcoming ceremony, and the manner in which the dart is picked up reveals whether a visitor's intentions are friendly or hostile. Beckham's acceptance of the taki marked him as a friend.

"It's just nice to be able to visit a country and be given a welcome like that ... it doesn't happen every day," Beckham said later at a media conference. "The love and the passion we've been shown by the people has been incredible so far."

At the end of the welcoming ceremony, Beckham was driven to the seafront hotel at which he will stay until the team's scheduled departure on Sunday.

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.

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.