All Whites striker Shane Smeltz has been ruled out of the OFC Nations Cup after suffering from a recurring foot injury during the Hyundai A-League season.
The 34-year-old, who has scored 24 goals from his 51 internationals for New Zealand, was managing a strain to his plantar fascia (the flat band of tissue that supports the arch of the foot) and was being monitored by the Sydney FC and All Whites medical teams.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson decided it was not worth risking further injury to Smeltz and has replaced him with promising attacking midfielder Luka Prelevic.
"It is a disappointing because we'd love to have Smeltzy with us," says Hudson from Brisbane. "We have been monitoring him for quite a few weeks now and it has been causing him a lot of problems. He has been having injections and is not right. We need him fit, and it ultimately wouldn't be good for us and it wouldn't be good for him if we forced him here."
Hudson says Prelevic, a 20-year-old forward who plays his football for the Pascoe Vale SC in Melbourne, would not be out of place as he eyes his international debut.
Prelevic was a member of the All Whites U-23 squad who played in Papua New Guinea last year and featured in the team's opening 2-0 win in the training game against Brisbane club side Western Pride FC.
"Luka did very well for us in the islands last year," said Hudson. "He is a big player, a strong player, he is an attacking midfielder and I have no problem with Luka coming into the squad."
After a successful two week camp in Auckland and Brisbane, Hudson said the All Whites could not wait to get on the plane to Papua New Guinea tomorrow morning and begin the final preparations for their opener
against Fiji on Saturday.
"[This camp] has been the best time we have had with the team," he says. "The players have given everything and really applied themselves to everything and there is a really good team spirit around the place now, and because of all that I have really enjoyed the camp. Now we are at the stage where we are ready to get to Papua New Guinea and ready for Saturday."
The team has endured a couple of disruptions in their build-up but Hudson referred to the mantra of "no excuses". They would not be deterred from their goal to win the tournament.
"This is international football and football in general. Injuries and all these sorts of things happen and you just have to get on with it. We brought a couple of extra players to train with us in Brisbane just in case fitness
levels were low or if we did get an injury we would have the guys here doing the work and prepared to be in line with the team.
"We covered ourselves there and as it happens we have had to use them. It is not like we are calling in someone cold. We are going to take a player who has spent a good chunk of time with the team and knows how
we want to play and has already played for the team now. I am comfortable. We would love to have had Smeltzy here but this is what happens."
OFC Nations Cup Fact Box
When: May 28 - June 11
Where: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
What: This will be the 10th edition of the OFC Nations Cup, the quadrennial international men's football championship organised by the Oceania Football Confederation. The winner of the OFC Nations Cup will qualify for the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017
Defending champion: Tahiti (2012)
OFC NATIONS CUP ON SKY SPORTS (NZ games):
LIVE: New Zealand V Fiji Saturday 28 May 5.50pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 056
LIVE: Vanuatu V New Zealand Tuesday 31 May 6.00pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 057
Replay: Vanuatu V New Zealand Thursday 2 June 8.30am SKY Sport 1
LIVE: New Zealand V Solomon Islands Saturday 4 June 8.50pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 055
Replay: New Zealand V Solomon Islands Monday 6 June 10.00am SKY Sport 1
LIVE: Semi-Final 1 Wednesday 8 June 5.50pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 055
LIVE: Semi-Final 2 Wednesday 8 June 9.20pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 055
Replay: Semi-Final 1 Thursday 9 June 8.30am SKY Sport 1
Replay: Semi-Final 2 Thursday 9 June 10.30am SKY Sport 1
LIVE: Final Saturday 11 June 9.20pm SKY Sport Pop-up Channel 055
Replay: Final Tuesday 15 June 1.30am SKY Sport 2