Soccer: Players expected to be at crucial games

By Terry Maddaford

Ivan Vicelich has already confirmed his availability for the rest of this year. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ivan Vicelich has already confirmed his availability for the rest of this year. Photo / Greg Bowker

Stung by the embarrassing loss to New Caledonia at last year's Oceania Nations Cup, New Zealand Football will insist that all selected players must play in matches in Fifa windows.

With key players, including Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid, missing through injury, the All Whites went down 2-0 to New Caledonia and were knocked out in the semifinals, losing any chance of qualifying for this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Determined to avoid similar situations, New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred de Jong said yesterday that wherever possible matches would be played only in Fifa windows at which time the players must make themselves available.

As a compromise, NZF will try to avoid scheduling friendly internationals outside the windows and, if possible, leave the European summer break free to allow players to take holidays.

"That is not to say that if a game we thought would be of benefit - ie, if a top European club was scheduled to play in Australia in June and we had the chance to dovetail on to that, we would certainly consider it and expect the players to play but without forcing the issue," said de Jong. "But whenever we have the chance, at no matter what stage, to qualify for a World Cup that will come first and foremost.

"Having said that, I'm sure all the current squad are fully committed to the cause. The rules are there to protect club and country and we will be applying them."

The next step in the World Cup campaign will come in the next few days when coach Ricki Herbert names an 18 or 19-strong squad to play the remaining games in stage three of the Oceania World Cup qualifiers on March 22 and 26.

"We are desperate to win that first game against New Caledonia," said de Jong.

"Win that and we are through to the play-off with the fourth-placed Concacaf team in November. We certainly don't want to have our World Cup hopes reliant on getting a result against the Solomons in Honiara on March 26.

"I would expect all players Ricki names will be busting a gut to be part of that."

New Zealand's most-capped international, Ivan Vicelich, has already confirmed his availability for the rest of this year and probably beyond.

New Zealand Football has yet to confirm where the March 22 game against New Caledonia will be played although it is now between Westpac Stadium in Wellington and Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, with the southern city perhaps slightly favoured given the long gap since it last hosted an international of this standing.

While they refuse to get ahead of themselves in planning for the Concacaf play-off, de Jong said there had already been some tentative approaches for what he sees as a "huge game" - on and off the field.

The national men's under-20 and under-17 teams are also preparing for their World Cups.

- NZ Herald

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