Soccer: Coach and team on trial

By Michael Brown

Emblen picks two debutants in exciting young All Whites lineup against Japan.

Teenager Tyler Boyd is one of two debutants. Photo / Getty Images
Teenager Tyler Boyd is one of two debutants. Photo / Getty Images

The All Whites are heading into a new era as they eye World Cup qualification four years down the line but will take on an opposition tonight (Wed) who are very much focused on the present.

New Zealand play a strong Japan side heading into their final phase of preparations for this year's World Cup and will do it with a youthful side. Interim coach Neil Emblen will hand debuts to teenagers Tyler Boyd and Ryan Thomas and seven of the starting side have played just 24 internationals between them.

It's an exciting lineup, and one that is likely to be around for some time as the focus goes onto qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but they face a difficult assignment against Japan, who drew with the Netherlands (ranked 10th in the world) and beat Belgium (11th) in their last two outings.

They will also have to cope without regular captain Winston Reid and Marco Rojas, who are both injured, and vice-captain Tommy Smith, who asked to be overlooked so he can focus on his club career.

Emblen hasn't been afraid to make his mark, leaving a handful of long-time All Whites out of the squad, and opting to leave Shane Smeltz, New Zealand's second-most prolific striker of all time, on the bench.

Chris Wood and Boyd will start up front with Tim Payne playing as a holding midfielder shielding a back four of Storm Roux, Michael Boxall, Andrew Durante and Bill Tuiloma.

Kosta Barbarouses, Michael McGlinchey and Thomas make up an attack-minded midfield trio.

"I think it is on form,'' Emblen said. "The players are ready. They are playing week-in, week-out, they are fit and look sharp. Lots of them are quick, young and vibrant and if you are playing a quick and vibrant team like Japan then these players will be able to combat that better than others. They are players who are ready right now.''

Emblen hopes he can prove he's ready, too. He's been given the job for just one game after three years as Ricki Herbert's assistant and New Zealand Football are in no hurry to make a permanent appointment with no more internationals planned until September.

He's had just two training sessions with the players since arriving in Tokyo but sent each player 'homework' a few weeks ago in the shape of video clips of their opposition. It's an attacking lineup, but Emblen also wants them to play with "true Kiwi spirit'' based on resilience, hard work and putting their bodies on the line.

"If every player understands their role and we are really competitive and give Japan a really good game, I would be happy,'' Emblen said. "Whether that's for this one game or more, it would give me peace of mind. I would be proud to say I have coached the side once. Not many people get that opportunity.

"I'm at ease either way. I am going to give it my best shot and if I do that and New Zealand Football appoint a top coach to come in and take the team, I hope if I have done well enough I can remain part of it anyway.''

Japan have dipped to 50 in the world but feature the likes of Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa, Inter Milan's Yuto Nagatomo and AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda.

How they line up
All Whites side to play Japan in Tokyo tonight at 11.40pm: (4-1-3-2): Glen Moss; Storm Roux, Michael Boxall, Andrew Durante, Bill Tuiloma; Tim Payne; Kosta Barbarouses, Michael McGlinchey, Ryan Thomas; Chris Wood, Tyler Boyd. Subs (from): Jacob Spoonley, Ben Sigmund, Chris James, Cameron Howieson, Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon, Jeremy Brockie.

- NZ Herald

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