Soccer-New Zealand thrilled with 'massive' Belgium friendly

WELLINGTON, July 17 (Reuters) - New Zealand coach Danny Hay says his side will be able to test themselves against some of the best players in the world when they face FIFA's top-ranked team Belgium in a friendly in October.

New Zealand Football (NZF) said on Friday the match in Brussels had been arranged for Oct. 8, though it still required approval from authorities.

International soccer has been on hold since March due to COVID-19 but will ramp up in September with the UEFA Nations League. The match precedes Belgium's friendlies against England away on Oct. 11 and Iceland on Oct. 14.

New Zealand, ranked No. 122 in the world and based in the remote Oceania confederation, rarely have the opportunity to schedule friendlies so far from home and coach Hay was thrilled with the prospect of facing a side that finished third at the World Cup in 2018.

"The prospect of playing the No. 1 team in the world is massive," All Whites coach Hay said.

"This is a real opportunity for the team to test themselves against some of the best players on the planet."

NZF Chief Executive Andrew Pragnell said the growing number of New Zealand players plying their trade in Europe made it easier to arrange the friendly.

"Putting on any sporting event in these times is challenging but the return of professional club football over these past months, and now international football across Europe has been very encouraging," he said.

"The number of Kiwis playing professional football in Europe now makes fixtures such as this more viable at this time."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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