Soccer: Herbert springs surprises for Saudi Arabia

By Michael Brown

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert. Photo / Getty Images.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert. Photo / Getty Images.

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has thrown a couple of curveballs into the mix as he attempts to find the right formula for success in November's high-stakes World Cup playoffs.

Herbert tonight named an 18-man squad for the OSN Cup, a four-team tournament to be played in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, early next month and recalled both Chris James and Kris Bright.

Jacob Spoonley has also won the race for the second goalkeeper's position following the retirement of Mark Paston and Waitakere midfielder Jake Butler has also been called up to the squad for first time.

Marco Rojas, Shane Smeltz and Dan Keat have all been ruled out through injury and midfielder Michael McGlinchey will also miss the tournament because his wife is expecting the birth of their first child.

It's not an ideal situation for Herbert, who has only a limited time with his squad before November's home and away playoff against the fourth-placed team from North and Central America.

Honduras and Panama loom as the most likely opposition and will be battle hardened after a tough qualifying campaign by the time they meet the All Whites in the first game on November 15.

In comparison, New Zealand will play two matches in Saudi Arabia - they play the home side in their first game on November 6 and, depending on the result, either Trinidad & Tobago or the United Arab Emirates - and are hoping to play two more games in the October window.

The recalls for James and Bright, who are both playing club football in Finland, and callup for Butler are the most surprising.

James and Bright both last played for the All Whites at the 2009 Confederations Cup but weren't expected to feature as the All Whites' World Cup qualifying campaign came to a head and Butler has been plucked from domestic football after one appearance for New Zealand A.

Herbert is still to find an answer in the holding midfielder role since the retirement of Tim Brown last year and veteran Ivan Vicelich could well be pitched into the position in the intercontinental playoff.

James and Butler have a chance to impress and the pair seem to have jumped ahead of Aaron Clapham, Craig Henderson and Adam McGeorge in the calculations.

The defence is arguably the most settled of any of the units, with the likes of skipper Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Ben Sigmund but New Zealand Football have still not heard about Andrew Durante's eligibility and left-back Tony Lochhead is without a club after failing to earn a new contract with the Wellington Phoenix.

NZF want to be sure Durante qualifies for the All Whites - he's now a New Zealand citizen after five years playing for Wellington but there are concerns about a period he spent on loan to Sydney FC _ and want a definitive answer from Fifa before November's playoffs.

His eligibility will have a significant bearing on Herbert's formation _ he has largely opted for a 3-4-3 since the intercontinental playoff against Bahrain in 2009.

Spoonley has beaten off the likes of Jake Gleeson, Michael O'Keefe, Scott Basalaj and Max Crocombe to be given the nod as Moss' backup as the No 2 goalkeeper. Spoonley has endured a difficult couple of years domestically but has a supporter in Herbert and is moving to Team Wellington to get more gametime and to train with the Phoenix.

All Whites squad for the OSN Cup in Saudi Arabia starting on November 6 (NZT): Glen Moss, Jacob Spoonley, Winston Reid, Tony Lochhead, Ben Sigmund, Tommy Smith, Andrew Durante, Jake Butler, Leo Bertos, Chris James, Ivan Vicelich, Tim Payne, Kris Bright, Cameron Howieson, Chris Killen, Jeremy Brockie, Kosta Barbarouses, Kris Bright, Chris Wood.

- APNZ

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