Soccer: Nelsen out, Durante in

By Kris Shannon

Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. Photo / Getty Images
Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is a possibility to ease the pain of Ryan Nelsen's retirement after confirming today he is switching allegiance from his native Australia.

Durante has been on the radar of New Zealand football fans for some time, and in March will have completed the five years' residency necessary to qualify for the All Whites.

With that date fast approaching, Durante has decided to apply to Fifa for eligibility and he may even be able to take the field for his adopted country in their World Cup qualifiers in late March.

The news comes at the perfect time for the All Whites, reeling from the impending retirement of their captain. Durante, one of the best centre backs in the A-League, will be seen as an heir apparent for Nelsen and, with Winston Reid and Tommy Smith, will allow Ricki Herbert to retain the back three of which he is fond.

Durante's eligibility is no certainty, with Fifa notoriously strict in their criteria for players wishing to switch nations.

While Durante has never stepped foot on a football field for Australia, he has been in several Socceroos squads and even sat on the bench during an Asian Cup qualifier in 2010.

For those reasons, Durante was remaining cautiously optimistic about his chances of pulling on the silver fern.

"I'm kind of cautious but in the back of my head I'm keen to play for the All Whites," he said. "I've been on the bench for a Socceroos game so there's always that that Fifa can look at, but the process is in motion and hopefully it all turns out all right and in March everything's all rosy."

Durante said the switch has been in the pipeline for some time and was not triggered by Nelsen's decision to take up the managerial reins at MLS side Toronto FC.

"It makes no difference to me, really. I'm going to pursue going down that path, regardless of if Ryan was around," he said. "Obviously, not being selected in the Socceroos has made the decision a lot easier. It's my birth country and obviously very close ties with it.

"But I've got very close links to New Zealand now - I've been here for five years, I'm captain of the only professional football club here, my daughter was born here, I own property here. It's home to me at the moment, it feels right and Ricki's quite keen for it to happen, which is always a positive, and the players have also been really positive about it."

With a large contingent of his Phoenix teammates also internationals, Durante was confident he would be made to feel welcome in the New Zealand dressing room.

Once the red tape is cut and his switch is confirmed, Durante's next task is to brush up on the Maori verse of the national anthem.

"I think I've got to learn [the words] quick smart. I'm sure I'll get tested once it all goes through."

- APNZ

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