Ryan Nelsen has thrown a scare into the All Whites camp with the skipper suffering from a tummy ache ahead of their crucial World Cup match with Paraguay tomorrow morning (NZ time).
Nelsen didn't train with the rest of the squad during their final session at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane but coach Ricki Herbert expected his talismanic leader to be fit enough to play tomorrow. It's imperative he does, because Nelsen has been brilliant in New Zealand's two games at the World Cup and his efforts have even been recognised to the extent he was named goal.com's Player of the Week.
New Zealand will qualify for the second round if they beat the South Americans in their third pool game. They could progress with a draw, but that would rely on the result in the Italy/Slovakia match going their way.
Initially Herbert denied there was a problem with Herbert saying: "He's fine, he'll be playing tomorrow. He's just resting. I asked him not to train."
Later in this morning's press conference, however, Herbert admitted Nelsen was struggling with "a little tummy problem"
"Hopefully Ryan is OK," Herbert said. "If he's not, I'll play. I am kind of sitting here, not feeling the best myself. But that's something we can't control. It's not a big thing. It's got a time component and we are very comfortable with it."
Nelsen emerged onto the Peter Mokaba Stadium a few minutes after his team-mates for the training session. While the rest of the squad went through their warm-up drills, the 32-year-old spoke with team doctor Celeste Geertsma before heading back into the player's tunnel.
Nelsen's participation at the World Cup has been jeopardised by the imminent birth of his second child. He has said "nothing on earth" would stop him from being present for the birth, which is due on July 10, but it would be a cruel blow if he was invalided out of the match against Paraguay with food poisoning.
A half-fit Nelsen would still be a worthy inclusion for the All Whites. His team-mates feed off his presence and he has been a significant factor in their success at this World Cup to date.
Herbert has a fully fit squad to choose from otherwise, although the players admit to having been physically and mentally drained after their epic 1-1 draw with Italy.
This morning's training session has been the first since that game, although the captain's run is a typically relaxed affair as players get used to the stadium. Herbert gave his first team two days off to recover from the Italy match to ensure they are ready to face Paraguay.
The All Whites boss didn't have any concerns they wouldn't be in top shape for the game, especially with such a huge prize on offer and with a nation hopeful of a good outcome.
"The boys that played most of the two matches are all bright and looking forward to tomorrow," he said. "I think it's fantastic to have four million people waiting in anticipation for what may or may not bring. The heart will be on the sleeve and the performance will be as much as we can give.
"If it's good enough to take us further, then great. If it's not, then it's a really proud position that we have put football in New Zealand in."
Herbert will field an unchanged lineup against Paraguay, assuming Nelsen is fit. If he fails to recover in time, it could be expected Winston Reid will play the sweeper's position - like he did against Chile when Nelsen was suffering from an ear infection - and Ben Sigmund would come into central defence. Alternatively, Ivan Vicelich could move back into defence from midfield and Tim Brown, who has recovered from a fractured shoulder, could start in central midfield.
Regardless of who plays, Herbert said they wouldn't deviate from their physical approach, despite some officious refereeing in the last game against Italy. Japanese whistleblower Yuichi Nishimura, who refereed Spain's 2-0 win over Honduras earlier in the week, has been appointed to control the game.
"The referee is going to see what he sees and make decisions," Herbert said. "We need to be able to cope with that. Our mindset hasn't changed. Once we start to talk about [the referee], it could be quite detrimental. Hopefully it's a good, open, flowing game.
"I don't think we will hold back. I don't think we got the rub of the green with a lot of the decisions [against Italy]. I think we are competitive. We are no different to a lot of sides we have seen at this World Cup. We won't be changing. I don't see any reason to change and I think our aerial dominance has caused a lot of teams problems and hopefully we can do that tomorrow as well."