Soccer: Loss of Nelsen and Reid forces defensive reshuffle

By Terry Maddaford

Marco Rojas and Tim Payne prepare for the All Whites' clash against Tahiti. Picture / Brett Phibbs
Marco Rojas and Tim Payne prepare for the All Whites' clash against Tahiti. Picture / Brett Phibbs

The loss of key defenders Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid for Saturday's Oceania World Cup qualifier against Tahiti and the encouraging first-up effort by Leo Bertos at right back for the Wellington Phoenix against Sydney FC will almost certainly bring a return to a four-man All Whites defence in Papeete.

Since Herbert sensationally went with three at the back at the 2010 World Cup, he has stuck with that, pointing to the results the team enjoyed in South Africa and beyond with Nelsen and Reid key components in what was seen as a revolutionary move.

Herbert said the decision at that time was more or less forced upon him given the lack of a genuine right-sided player to take the fullback role.

Now, Herbert must reconsider his options.

At training yesterday, with only Reid and Nelsen who have remained in England for further injury evaluations missing, Herbert said he would not add any players to the 16 on show and he was happy with the cover within the squad.

"It is a chance to give players like Dan Keat and Tim Payne more game time," said Herbert. "And given what Leo [Bertos] showed us on Saturday night I would have no qualms in playing him there [at right back] again."

Indeed, three of the four players who turned in an excellent defensive effort against Sydney could turn out, with Bertos and Tony Lochhead playing the fullback roles and Ben Sigmund slotting in alongside Tommy Smith centrally.

The news that Nelsen and Reid had not left England came as a blow but Herbert is confident both will be fit and ready to play the return leg in Christchurch next Tuesday.

There are a number of options.

The pair, once cleared by their respective medical people, could fly to Auckland in time to join the team for tomorrow's flight to Papeete or fly there directly - but not play - or by-pass Tahiti completely and return to New Zealand in time to play in Christchurch.

Nelsen is keen to play in his home town even if now it will not be his much-awaited 50th international appearance.

Nelsen has remained in London to have a knee injury assessed after receiving a knock at West Bromwich Albion, while Reid is still awaiting the results of scans after suffering back spasms in the loss to Arsenal.

"We've been aware of the injuries since the weekend, and unfortunately they have prevented the players from travelling," said New Zealand Football high performance director Fred de Jong yesterday. All of the 18-man squad were involved in last month's fixtures against New Caledonia and Solomon Islands.

Cup qualifiers

All Whites v Tahiti
Papeete, 7pm Saturday

All Whites v Tahiti
Christchurch, 7.35pm Tuesday

- NZ Herald

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