Soccer: Star strikers to miss South Africa

The All Whites' clash with South Africa next week has been further weakened with the withdrawal of attacking pair Shane Smeltz and Kosta Barbarouses. Photo / Getty Images.
The All Whites' clash with South Africa next week has been further weakened with the withdrawal of attacking pair Shane Smeltz and Kosta Barbarouses. Photo / Getty Images.

The All Whites' clash with South Africa next week has been further weakened with the withdrawal of attacking pair Shane Smeltz and Kosta Barbarouses.

New Zealand had already named a squad short of several first choice players for the match at Mt Smart Stadium, with the likes of Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Chris Wood opting to rest following club commitments.

And South Africa, too, have been hampered by the withdrawal of 11 players from their original 18-man squad, leaving Bafana Bafana to field a virtual B team on their tour to Australia and New Zealand.

Now both Smeltz and Barbarouses have been forced to pull out due to injury concerns, with Wellington Phoenix midfielder Jason Hicks and South Melbourne defender James Musa being called into the squad by interim coach Neil Emblen.

Smeltz has been withdrawn by new club Sydney FC following an A-League season with Perth which saw the striker constantly hindered by injury.

His exclusion will again raise questions about New Zealand Football's management of club vs country battles, considering the new A-League season is some five months away.

But Emblen defended the decision and thought Smeltz was justified in focusing his attentions on solidifying his future in Sydney.

"Shane has had a stop-start season due to injury," Emblen said. "With him securing a deal at a new club, while we lose access to a top quality striker, I can understand the position he and the club are in ahead of a new campaign with a new coach."

Melbourne Victory attacker Barbarouses, meanwhile, is still recovering from the effects of a lingering ankle problem after a long season with his club which included their seven-match Asian Champions League campaign.

The withdrawals leaves the All Whites squad boasting a combined eight goals in international football but, looking on the bright side, Emblen said the door was now open for two young players looking to make an impression.

"Losing players from the squad at any time isn't ideal but that's the nature of football," the coach said. "What this situation does provide is an opportunity for Jason and James who are hungry young players excited by the chance to prove themselves in the All Whites environment."

The All Whites go into camp on Monday in Auckland ahead of Friday night's match.

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