After their efforts for the Phoenix, Jeremy Brockie and Glen Moss have surely cemented their places for Friday's pivotal World Cup qualifier in Dunedin, but which other All Whites are looking likely starters? Kris Shannon of APNZ selects a form team for the showdown with New Caledonia.
Goalkeeper - Glen Moss
One of coach Ricki Herbert's easiest decisions. Following the 5-0 loss to Central Coast, Herbert dropped Mark Paston from a Phoenix team with the second-worst defence in the A-League. It wasn't enough to save Herbert's job, but Moss has since impressed and he made a string of impressive stops in Wellington's 2-1 win in Perth last night.
Defence - Winston Reid, Andrew Durante, Tommy Smith
With a glut of attacking talent, Herbert has real flexibility in formation but, needing at least a point, it would be no surprise if he opts for the tried and true 3-4-3. Which should see the newly-naturalised Durante make his debut, providing his clearance from Fifa arrives.
No, Durante cannot replace retired captain Ryan Nelsen, but he is New Zealand's best defender behind Reid and Smith. And, although the Phoenix have been leaky this season, Durante will be a different prospect beside the English-based duo.
Reid played 90 minutes as West Ham lost 2-0 to Chelsea this morning, while Smith helped Ipswich keep a clean sheet in a win against Bolton in the English Championship. The only real decision for Herbert will be which of the young pair gets the armband, considering both have previously captained their clubs.
Midfield - Leo Bertos, Ivan Vicelich, Michael McGlinchey, Jeremy Brockie
The central midfield is simple. McGlinchey, who played 90 minutes in Central Coast's 1-0 win over Brisbane, is in the form of his life and will be an automatic selection for the foreseeable future. And Vicelich is still the best option to join him for such an important fixture, despite playing at the heart of defence in Auckland City's 4-3 loss to Waitakere in the ASB Premiership grand final on Sunday.
The wide positions are another question. New Caledonia, top scorers in the final stage of qualifying, cannot be taken lightly despite the All Whites' 2-0 win in the reverse fixture, but these players should be given more licence to attack than when they effectively formed a back five at the World Cup.
Although he has led the line in fine fashion for the Phoenix, Brockie would be a nice fit. He would be a hard man to leave out with 15 goals this season and, as his second assist against Perth showed, he can be a brilliant crosser of the ball.
On the other side, Bertos has been given a new lease of life at the Phoenix since his defensive duties were removed and he was pushed forward from right back. His experience in the wing-back position is a plus and his running with the ball could expose an opposition which needs to chase three points if they hope to edge New Zealand for the Oceania spot in the inter-continental playoff.
Attack - Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood, Marco Rojas
Rojas sits third in the A-League with 14 goals and is guaranteed a place in the starting XI, while Wood - who played 70 minutes in Leicester City's 2-1 loss to Derby County in the Championship on Sunday - will join him despite a scoring 'drought' of five games.
Kosta Barbarouses has made only one start for Panathinaikos this year and has just 13 minutes of first-team football under his belt since January, so he should be named on the bench. Smeltz is having a lean season in front of goal by his lofty standards - and he was unable to add to his seven strikes in the loss to the Phoenix - but he has previously feasted on Island opposition and his flexibility will allow him and Rojas to rotate around Wood.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris