Soccer: And so, to the future

By Terry Maddaford

All Whites and Blackburn Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen is set to have some of his New Zealand team-mates opposing him in next season's English Premier League with goalkeeping hero Mark Paston and young defenders Winston Reid and Tommy Smith likely targets of big-spending clubs.

Riding the crest of a wave after some outstanding efforts at the World Cup - collectively as well as individually - the three players can expect the Premier League clubs to come knocking.

All Whites assistant coach Brian Turner said from South Africa yesterday that he was confident the trio were being lined up to play in what is one of the toughest competitions in world soccer.

"They have been outstanding," said Turner. "I'm not surprised there has already been some interest. They have obviously impressed the right people and good on them. They deserve it."

Paston, 33, who is contracted to the Wellington Phoenix, has only rarely been New Zealand's first-choice goalkeeper since making his debut against Indonesia in 1997.

He has played 26 internationals with eight of those in recent times - in the home and away qualifiers against Bahrain, in the build-up matches, and at the World Cup.

It was generally accepted that had Glen Moss been available, Paston would have seen little, if any, action.

Given the chance, as Moss sat out a four-match Fifa-imposed ban, Paston was superb.

He kept his sixth and seventh clean sheets in the crucial clashes with Bahrain and at the World Cup conceded just two goals - one from a penalty, the other from a goal which was later shown to have been scored by an offside player.

In between times, he was sidelined at the Phoenix with a broken leg but bounced back emphatically.

Paston has played in the United Kingdom but only in the lower divisions with brief spells at Bradford, Walsall and St Johnstone before returning to link with the NZ Knights and then the Phoenix where he was, more often than not, Moss' understudy.

Reid and Smith, the Johnny-come-lately additions to Ricki Herbert's squad, made an immediate impact.

Even before his 93rd-minute heroics in heading home the equaliser in New Zealand's 1-1 Cup opener with Slovakia, Reid was touted as a player of real class.

Playing for Danish club FC Midtjylland, Reid, 21, is seen as an outstanding footballer in both defence, where he made some crucial challenges in South Africa, and in attack with his deft passing ability.

Smith, 20, made his debut against Mexico earlier this year and is already being touted as a future captain.

Contracted to Ipswich Town, Smith finished last season playing on loan at Brentford. He may have played his last game in the lower leagues if the EPL scouts get their man.

- NZ Herald

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