Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Selection dilemma looms for All Whites

Ian Hogg is a possible choice for left wing back. Photo / NZPA
Ian Hogg is a possible choice for left wing back. Photo / NZPA

In the quest for success, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has some crucial selection dilemmas to solve. The defensive trio appears set in stone (Winston Reid, Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith), while Mark Paston remains first choice in goal. Michael McGlinchey is a certainty in centre midfield, while Shane Smeltz (23 goals in 48 international games) is always one of the first names on Herbert's team sheet.

Left-sided wing back

Since his debut in 2003, Tony Lochhead has been a consistent performer for the All Whites but continues to polarise fans. He is probably not as bad as his detractors believe, nor as good as his appearance record for club and country indicates (though the Phoenix have consistently struggled in his absence). Lochhead does struggle against top quality opposition and would be a gamble for these matches, though Herbert has precious few other options. Ian Hogg made a promising start to his international career (vs El Salvador) and his pace would be an asset. Though he lacks international experience, his time with Portland Timbers (MLS) should hugely help his development.

Right-sided wing back

Leo Bertos filled this role in South Africa and remains Herbert's go-to man for this difficult position on the flank, though, like Lochhead, his international performances have been unconvincing in the past 18 months. Jeremy Brockie has been used occasionally in the position (though it would be a hard transition from his current striking role at the Phoenix). Marco Rojas may be an option for the second leg at home if goals are needed.

Central midfield

The ageless Ivan Vicelich (he was outstanding for Auckland City at the recent Club World Cup) will still be favourite to sit alongside McGlinchey but it will be asking a lot of the 36-year-old, especially in the tropical heat of the away leg. Dan Keat offers a bigger engine and more of an attacking threat, while Tim Payne (Blackburn academy) is another option.

Attacking trio

With Smeltz seen as a certainty, Chris Wood, Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses, Chris Killen and Rory Fallon will be fighting for the remaining two attacking spots. Rojas appeals as a match winner but may be sacrificed for the away leg, while Wood, who has signed for Championship club Leicester City, could also be used as a second half substitute. Killen is past his peak but brings a physical edge and the guile of Barbarouses is sure to play a part in both matches.

- Herald on Sunday

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