Soccer: Frustrating wait almost over for Durante

By Michael Brown

Andrew Durante in action for the Phoenix. Photo / getty Images
Andrew Durante in action for the Phoenix. Photo / getty Images

Making your international debut is supposed to be a memorable experience and it's certainly been that for Andrew Durante even before he's kicked a ball for the All Whites.

The 30-year-old recently became a New Zealand citizen but didn't play in Friday night's crucial 2-1 win over New Caledonia because of concerns over his eligibility.

Durante and New Zealand Football are convinced he qualifies after five years living and playing in Wellington but Fifa have yet to hand down a definitive answer and coach Ricki Herbert didn't want to risk him against New Caledonia.

The situation has changed now the All Whites are guaranteed passage to November's intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from North and Central America and Durante will play in Tuesday's match against the Solomon Islands in Honiara.

NZF hope his eligibility will be challenged by the Solomons (at the request of both NZF and Oceania) so Fifa have to investigate and make a ruling because they don't want it to remain a cloudy issue come November - any successful challenge after a match he played in would see the result go against the All Whites 3-0.

"I have been through a lot of emotions," Durante said. "Being picked in the squad was fantastic and I was really excited about all that and then not being able to play was frustrating.

"I was so close to being a part of that game and to find out that Fifa wouldn't give a definite answer on my eligibility was frustrating. But I guess now hopefully I can play on Tuesday and then it can all be sorted.

"It seems like [a challenge] is the only option. I have to play and then Fifa will have to look at it and there will a decision either way. It's quite strange it has to be done this way but, if this is how it has to be done, I just have to live with it."

The only area of concern centres on the three-month period Durante spent with Sydney FC in 2011 on a short-term contract to help them with their Asian Champions League campaign. This, on top of the time he spent away from New Zealand with the Phoenix, could be an issue although NZF are comfortable Durante still passes the criteria.

The Wellington Phoenix captain will start against the Solomon Islands and, even though he is yet to be capped, will be one of the side's more experienced players.

Herbert has made multiple changes, sending the majority of his first-choice side back to their clubs. It also allows him to manage the yellow card situation, with 11 players one caution from a suspension for November's playoffs.

Of those 11, only Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie and Ian Hogg have travelled to Honiara but Bertos and Brockie will both start on the bench.

Luke Rowe is likely to slot in at left midfield and Cameron Lindsay on the right in a 4-4-2 formation, with Tim Payne playing in behind Kosta Barbarouses up front.

Durante is a candidate to captain the side and feels comfortable in the All Whites environment.

"I know most of the players and I have known Ricki for a long time so it helps a lot," he said. "I'm fully committed to New Zealand now and this is the country I represent."

The All Whites have a tradition that all new players sing a song when they enter camp. Durante chose Dave Dobbyn's Slice of Heaven because he wanted to perform a "Kiwi" song and didn't know too many others.

It hasn't been a heavenly introduction to the All Whites squad for Durante so far. He will hope that comes in November with World Cup qualification.

New Zealand side to play the Solomon Islands in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on Tuesday (5pm NZT): (Likely - 4-4-2): Spoonley; Scott, Sigmund, Durante, Hogg; Lindsay, Keat, Clapham, Rowe; Payne, Barbarouses. Subs: Paston, Bertos, Brockie.

- APNZ

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