Jason Pine is Radio Sport's football commentator

Football: Cool heads needed in heat of PNG battles

With Winston Reid out and Tommy Smith doubtful, the All Whites are already on the back foot for the Oceania Nations Cup - and we all know what happened last time. Jason Pine runs his eye over the squad options and some of the challenges ahead.
Chris Wood and the other All Whites strikers will face a physical challenge at the Nations Cup. Photo / Photosport
Chris Wood and the other All Whites strikers will face a physical challenge at the Nations Cup. Photo / Photosport

Conditions

To win the Oceania Nations Cup, starting on May 28 in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand need to win five games in 13 days in oppressive heat and in front of hostile crowds.

Port Moresby won't be a place for the faint-hearted. Every member of the 23-man squad, with the possible exception of the third goalkeeper, will get game time as players are rotated and rested to combat the gruelling schedule.

The fixture list is slightly less onerous than in Honiara in 2012 - there are two days between games, rather than just one - and there are multiple playing surfaces. In 2012, every match was on the same pitch.


Experience

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson has been unwavering in his aim of exposing as many players to international football as possible during his time in charge: 38 players have taken the field during his six games at the helm.

But the time for handing out caps is gone. He must now pick a squad of 23 with the sole aim of negotiating a testing format and emerging at the other end with tickets booked for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.


Preparation

One of the biggest criticisms of the last Nations Cup campaign was the lack of preparation. While the All Whites played two warm-up games, they were against Honduras and El Salvador in conditions vastly different from Honiara.

Insufficient scouting of the opposition also contributed to New Zealand's failures. There may not be any warm-up games this time (a two-week camp in Australia is planned) but Hudson is renowned for his meticulous planning and should have comprehensive dossiers on opponents ready for his team.


Physicality

The Pacific Island nations are notorious for their rugged defenders. Many New Zealand players have emerged battered and bruised from an encounter with a mountainous centre back from Fiji or Tahiti.

In the attacking third in particular, players are needed who can use their bodies effectively, get their elbows out, hold up the ball and give their team-mates a breather and the chance to regroup.

Nippy attackers certainly have their place in this squad, but so too do traditional No9s.


Culture

Winning this tournament is as much about what happens outside the white lines as between them.

The 23-man squad and all the management team need to have solidarity and develop a hard-edged mentality which will see them through the inevitably tough times that await.

Culture like that needs characters: people with big personalities and big voices to create a buzz and positive vibe in a tired team room.


Possible squad

Goalkeepers

Glen Moss, Stefan Marinovic, Max Crocombe

The first two pick themselves and Crocombe should get the nod over the likes of Jake Gleeson and Nik Tzanev by virtue of significant recent game-time at Southport.


Defenders

Andrew Durante, Michael Boxall, Themi Tzimopoulos, Thomas Doyle, Kip Colvey, Deklan Wynne, Sam Brotherton

Without Reid and probably Smith, the SOS has gone out to Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante, who is on the verge of accepting Hudson's offer of an international return.

Colvey, who can play on either side of the back four, should earn a call-up in the absence of the injured Storm Roux, having quickly become a regular at the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS.


Midfielders

Michael McGlinchey, Ryan Thomas, Bill Tuiloma, Clayton Lewis, Louis Fenton, Marco Rojas

No real surprises here, but Hudson will be sweating on the fitness of Thomas who is recovering from knee surgery. Tuiloma hasn't played much club football lately, but he has huge potential.


Strikers
Chris Wood, Kosta Barbarouses, Shane Smeltz, Jeremy Brockie, Ryan De Vries, Hamish Watson, Rory Fallon

New Zealand will need physicality, experience and form in the front third, which these strikers all offer to certain degrees.

While some will raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of Fallon, every side needs characters and the veteran striker is a galvanising presence in camp, a constant source of laughter and fun, and a key cog in what will need to be a strong team culture. He can still put himself about on the field, too.

- Herald on Sunday

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