Soccer: Team take chance to celebrate

By Michael Brown

Mark Paston. Photo / Getty Images
Mark Paston. Photo / Getty Images

Ricki Herbert intends lining up against Honduras on Saturday with as close to the starting side and formation that played at the World Cup as possible.

Herbert sees the double-header against Honduras and Paraguay as a celebration of what they achieved in South Africa. But not all will make it back onto the pitch.

Tony Lochhead will miss the game with a groin injury and doubts surround the fitness of Rory Fallon and Tommy Smith.

It is one time when form is virtually irrelevant. It means Mark Paston will start in goal against Honduras, despite not having played for the Phoenix in three weeks and the fact long-time rival Glen Moss has been excellent for Gold Coast.

It will also mean Simon Elliott will start in central midfield, even though his last competitive game of football was the 0-0 draw with Paraguay that ended their remarkable World Cup journey.

Herbert thinks it's only right: "This is a great opportunity for the team to come home.

In 1982, it was never celebrated and that was massively disappointing," he says. "The country deserves to see the team at home, especially as it will be against two teams who were with us at the World Cup.

"Next year will see the start of the new World Cup campaign. These two games represent the end of the last one.

"The team will still want to win. They are not coming back to have a stroll around the pitch and wave a few times to the fans."

All 23 players who were in South Africa are scheduled to gather in New Zealand this week, including Andy Barron and James Bannatyne who have retired. Cole Peverley, who went to the Republic as injury cover for Tim Brown, will be involved.

Herbert intends to stick with the 3-4-3 formation he has used since the first leg of the play-off against Bahrain 12 months ago. It proved effective, with the All Whites picking up wins over Bahrain and Serbia as well as the three draws against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.

The system works on defensive stability (it can sometimes look like a 5-4-1) as well as getting quick ball to the strikers but some have implored Herbert to employ a more attractive and attacking style in the friendlies.

"I would dispute that," he says. "People making those comments are people who didn't think we would make it to a World Cup. Now they are signalling we should be some free-flowing team that destroys everyone in the world. When have we ever, in the history of the game, been as solid and tight and as dominant on the world stage? Never.

"I think we will play a similar way this time. It's been a good recipe. Whether it works this time, I don't know, but the next four years gives us time to look at the best options to get us back to the World Cup."

Lochhead is difficult to replace. He has limitations but there are few natural alternatives at left wing-back.

Leo Bertos could switch to the left. Either Michael McGlinchey, Brown or David Mulligan could play right wing-back. Winston Reid or Smith could move further forward, and Ben Sigmund slot into the back three.

Chris Wood is the logical replacement for Fallon if he's not fit. Reports out of England suggest Fallon, who had a hernia operation, is targeting the game against Paraguay.

Herbert will have a chance to talk with his senior players about their international futures as well as outline his vision for the next four years.

There are doubts long term about the availability of captain Ryan Nelsen, Elliott, Ivan Vicelich and Paston.

- Herald on Sunday

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