Tim Payne is set for the biggest start of his blossoming career when he joins seasoned All Whites Ivan Vicelich and Michael McGlinchey in midfield for tonight's Oceania World Cup qualifier against Tahiti in Papeete.
While coach Ricki Herbert had not settled on his starting X1 as the team headed to the match pitch for a second light training session yesterday, it appears Payne will get a start in a game Herbert sees as crucial.
It also seems certain that given the loss of key defenders Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid, Herbert will revert to a back four with three of his Wellington Phoenix players, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead, to be joined by stand-in captain Tommy Smith. Mark Paston will start in goal behind them. Up front the All Whites will go with experience, with Shane Smeltz, Chris Killen and Chris Wood to lead the charge.
Payne's selection continues an amazing year for the former Sacred Heart College and Waitakere United midfielder.
In the space of 12 months, he has played for New Zealand at under-17 (in Mexico), under-20 (in Colombia), under-23 (London Olympics) and the All Whites.
His full international debut came in the 1-0 win over Honduras in May when he entered the game off the bench to replace Bertos.
He then went on to play, and start in, some matches at the ill-fated Nations Cup in June.
While Herbert welcomed the news that Nelsen and Reid had arrived in Auckland and will link with the team for tomorrow's trip to Christchurch, he was making no guarantees that the two Premier League players would be drafted straight into the team for Tuesday's return game.
"The total focus at this stage is on this game. We have got a few players who haven't played here before and while the ground conditions might not be what we would prefer, the weather conditions should be okay.
"There will be no excuses," said Herbert. "We just have to make sure of taking the points."By Terry Maddaford Email Terry