Soccer: Smeltz encouraged ahead of Nations Cup

By Kris Shannon

Shane Smeltz. Photo / AP.
Shane Smeltz. Photo / AP.

After scoring the goal to secure their first win in two years, striker Shane Smeltz says the All Whites are in great shape ahead of the Oceania Nations Cup.

Smeltz's 18th international goal, a well-placed header from an exquisite Jeremy Brockie cross, led New Zealand to a 1-0 win over Honduras in Dallas on Sunday (NZT), a result that came on the back of a 2-2 draw against El Salvador on Thursday.

If New Zealand retain their Oceania title in the tournament which begins in the Solomon Islands starting on Friday, they will qualify for both next year's Confederations Cup in Brazil and the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

And Smeltz said Sunday's result, especially, has done a fresh-faced All Whites squad a power of good heading into Honiara.

"It's pleasing to get the result more than anything," he said. "It's really good for the boys and a real confidence booster less than a week away from a tournament that's vitally important for us.

"We've played against two very quality sides and got two decent results. It's going to hold us in good stead for the Nations Cup.

"I think [coach] Ricki [Herbert] has played it well, giving players who needed a run some time on the pitch, and boys have played in a variety of positions which is good for the squad. Where it sits right now, we're in a healthy position."

Of the 17 players used on Sunday afternoon, Smeltz was one of just five aged over 25. With other senior players to join the squad in Brisbane ahead of the Nations Cup, the A-League's leading marksman thought the future was bright for the All Whites.

"You can really sense with this squad that it's got the depth and youth you want in a squad. There are still a few players to come in and strengthen it right up. It's probably the best position the national team has been in a long time.

"Ricki has used the opportunity to give a few players a taste of international football, and credit to everyone involved - they've really stepped right up and done everything that's asked of them. There's also players in our team that are still quite young but have already built good experience for club and country."

New Zealand open their campaign on Sunday against Fiji before meeting Papua New Guinea next Monday and the Solomon Islands two days later. The semifinals and final are scheduled for Friday and Sunday, giving the All Whites a testing 10 day schedule to defend their crown and book the first of what they hope will be two tickets to Brazil.

"The conditions will be tough, and so will the teams we come up against, but we know what to expect. Most of the boys have been to the islands before and know what's coming our way.

"I think we've prepared really well. We just need to take that on and remain focused on what's needed.

"There's belief in this squad. We really feel it's down to us and if we can play our game and be mentally strong in these games we can come out on top."

- APNZ

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