Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Herbert has open selection slate

Ricki Herbert has an open mind around who will make up his starting side for Wednesday's match against Mexico. Photo / Getty
Ricki Herbert has an open mind around who will make up his starting side for Wednesday's match against Mexico. Photo / Getty

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has an open mind around who will make up his starting side for Wednesday's second leg of their intercontinental playoff against Mexico at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

New Zealand are in dire straits after they were hammered 5-1 in the first leg at the Azteca in Mexico City on Thursday and need something verging on a minor miracle to pull the tie back in their favour this week.

Herbert's beloved 3-4-3 formation seems likely to face the axe and personnel decisions will be influenced by the team's training sessions that will take place tomorrow and on Monday.

"We will use the next 48 hours to strongly consider what we think is the right tact to take,'' Herbert said in a phone interview with the Herald today.

Herbert will be without veterans Ivan Vicelich and Leo Bertos, while the side's best striker Chris Wood is also unavailable after all three players picked up a one-game suspension after being yellow carded in the opening leg of the tie.

As a result, Wellington Phoenix utility Louis Fenton has been whistled into the squad as cover.

All three of the suspended players started on Thursday, which means at least three changes will need to be made, while there's a strong chance more will be called for.

Central midfielder Jeremy Christie was badly exposed by the Mexicans, while left back Tony Lochhead was regularly caught out of position at the Azteca.

Herbert said his side still held the belief they could conjure up the unthinkable and haul the tie back in their favour and book a spot for next year's World Cup in Brazil.

"There's a real reality around it,'' Herbert said as he acknowledged the unenviable position his side were in. "But at the end of the day that's got to be our belief and people can make their assumptions on whether that's far-fetched or not. But it's there and this tie's not dead until that ref blows the final whistle after 90-odd minutes and that's the mindset we'll take in to the game on Wednesday.''

Herbert has a collection of young and exciting players in his squad such as Storm Roux, Marco Rojas and Bill Tuiloma and all could be summoned for Wednesday's game.

"I wouldn't rule it out,'' Herbert said. "The players that have been selected in the squad are here because we feel that they're good enough, so if any of them were included on Wednesday it would be because they do have the ability to play, not because they're young and we feel there's a future at some stage.''

Being able to talk to Herbert on the phone this afternoon marked a bizarre U-turn from the All Whites management, who instigated a last-minute media ban on the team at Wellington Airport earlier in the day.

After flying in to the capital from Auckland via Los Angeles this morning, they snubbed the Mexican and local press, despite their original media schedule indicating Herbert and selected players would take questions from reporters.

Following the snub, a New Zealand Football media liaison rang the Herald and said Herbert would be available for a phone interview but wouldn't answer queries surrounding his coaching future and would speak only about last Thursday's game and the upcoming second leg on Wednesday.

To his credit, Herbert fronted up and urged the public to get behind the team.

"We'll be very much on the front foot and will that be good enough against a talented Mexican side? Will that expose us by pressing on too far forward? I'm not sure. But the message is very clear that 4-0 is the only result that can take this team further forward.''

- APNZ

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