All Whites coach Anthony Hudson sent a strong message by finally casting aside Tommy Smith's disruptive shadow from the national team yesterday, but his decision to leave Winston Reid out seems like more of a calculated gamble.
Reid was made available for selection by West Ham United but Hudson decided it was in Reid's and the All Whites' "best interests" to get him right for the rest of the year.
The All Whites captain has missed 23 games of the English season due to lower back and hamstring injuries but is now fit and has played nine games in the last two months for the Hammers. He even scored the winner against Manchester United last week in West Ham's final match at Upton Park. It's fair to suggest that if this was a World Cup qualifier against South America's fifth best team, Reid would be playing.
But the decision to sideline Reid was Hudson's. The All Whites coach decided after consulting with West Ham's medical team that Reid's rest and recovery from "injections and seeing a specialist" should take priority over marshalling one of the most inexperienced backlines in All Whites history.
If New Zealand triumph in Papua New Guinea at the OFC Nations Cup next month, it will have been a very savvy move from the young English coach. Hudson may have even struck a deal with the Hammers, agreeing to let Reid relax now, on the condition West Ham release him without any funny business for every future World Cup qualifier.
But if New Zealand falter in Port Moresby, as they did in Honiara four years ago, the decision to leave the All Whites' best player out may come under a lot more scrutiny.
In fact, if New Zealand don't win the OFC Nations Cup, Reid can start booking a lengthy recovery holiday in June, 2018.
Missing out on the Confederations Cup would lead to an inadequate build-up for the All Whites to tackle South America's fifth best team, assuming New Zealand beat OFC's best in a home and away playoffs, and New Zealand's chances of making it to the World Cup in Russia would go from slim to scratch.
But Hudson backs his stable of defenders to get the job done, despite the cupboard being worryingly bare. Michael Boxall is the experienced man at the back with 14 caps, while the other six defenders have eight caps between them. Themi Tzimopoulous will likely marshal the centre of defence with Boxall, with Sam Brotherton, a 19-year-old who plays his footy at Wisconsin University, the understudy.
Jeremy Brockie can feel aggrieved not to have made the 23-man squad.
Hudson said the pace of the game in South Africa, where Brockie is playing for SuperSport United, is too slow to prepare him adequately for international football.
By contrast, Moses Dyer, a midfielder who plays in New Zealand's Northern Premier League for Onehunga Sports, was selected along with teammates Te Atawhai Wihongi and Clayton Lewis. I played against Dyer in a Northern Premier League match three weeks ago and can assure you the pace of the game would not have impressed Hudson.
It's a curious time to be an All Whites fan as the contrast between the attacking and defensive stocks are so one-sided towards the strikers.
In Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas, Chris Wood and Shane Smeltz, they have enough quality up front to get the job done in Port Moresby but, without Smith and Reid, it's not going to be easy.