Soccer: Herbert hints at changes

Ricki Herbert hinted at a potential change to his preferred formation prior to departure from Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.
Ricki Herbert hinted at a potential change to his preferred formation prior to departure from Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.

The All Whites have completed their pre-match preparations in Papeete as they focus on what they need to do to get a result against Oceania champions Tahiti.

Two training sessions were scheduled today, a morning hit out to shake out the legs after a five hour flight last night and the traditional captain's run at Stade Pater in the evening. And while not everything went to plan, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert is pleased with the efforts.

"We went to the training ground and the quality of the pitch wasn't that good, so we only trained lightly there," said Herbert "and we had another session on the stadium tonight, which is ok, it's got plenty of grass on it and it's flat."

Herbert hinted at a potential change to his preferred formation prior to departure from Auckland and is likely to employ a back four for the first time since the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009.

After starring at right back for his club side Leo Bertos looks set to drop back into the defensive role at international level for the first time having played the majority of his career as an out-and-out winger.

"We've got some options now that Leo's made the switch, he's done a good job there in a short time and it's an area where we've struggled to find a regular contributor," said Herbert.

Tommy Smith is expected to wear the armband in regular skipper Ryan Nelsen's absence, with Ben Sigmund set to play as the second centre-back. All Whites stalwart Tony Lochhead is s a shoe-in at left back.

Midfield appears to be the area of most contention again with 82-cap veteran Ivan Vicelich and Michael McGlinchey starting both matches last month. Both are expected to resume their roles with a new partner in a three-man midfield, with Dan Keat and Tim Payne vying for the remaining spot.

18-year-old Payne linked well with McGlinchey for the Oly Whites and now occupies a deep-lying role at U-21 level for his club side Blackburn Rovers.

Up top Herbert has hinted at the physical presence of Chris Wood, Chris Killen and Shane Smeltz as a front three. Millwall man Wood is in hot form having scored seven goals in his last six outings for the All Whites.

In Honiara, New Caledonia helped their chances with a rousing 6-2 away win over the Solomon Islands. Georges Gope-Fenepej was the hero potting four goals in the win with Roy Kayara and Jacques Haeko adding one apiece.

Tutizama Tanito and Joses Nawo twice equalised for the Bonitos but a late goal blitz made the match safe for Les Cagous.

The result gives New Caledonia six points, level with the All Whites, and could set up a crucial match with New Zealand in March next year if they can back the win up with another over the Solomon Islands at home in Noumea in four days time.

"I don't think there's ever a real surprise coming out of the islands, the games can go one way or another which is definitely unique and this one fits in that category. It's still important for us to focus on what we're doing and pick up points," said Herbert.

Back in Auckland, Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid arrived home to a flurry of media attention with the All Whites skipper cautious over his knee injury but optimistic he will be fit to play in the return fixture in Christchurch on Tuesday.

- APNZ

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