Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

Football: All you need to know about NZ's OFC Nations Cup campaign

Today the All Whites will play their first match in six months as they kick off their OFC Nations Cup campaign. Steven Holloway runs his eye over what is likely to unfold and what it all means.
Kosta Barbarouses will add firepower to the All Whites attack. Photo / Greg Bowker
Kosta Barbarouses will add firepower to the All Whites attack. Photo / Greg Bowker

What is the OFC Nations Cup?
It's Oceania's equivalent of the European Championships, hosted in Papua New Guinea, involving eight teams in two groups. The top six progress to stage three of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the winner earns a spot at next year's Confederations Cup in Russia.

Who is in New Zealand's group?
The All Whites open their campaign today against Fiji, a side containing one of the tournament's most dangerous attackers in Phoenix striker Roy Krishna. Three days later, they face Vanuatu before completing group play next Saturday against the Solomon Islands, who have brought Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx on board.

Will New Zealand win?
They will be heavy favourites, but they were also favourites to win the 2012 OFC Nations Cup in Honiara when beaten 2-0 by New Caledonia in the semifinals. All Whites coach Anthony Hudson is convinced he has learned from Ricki Herbert's mistakes from that trip.

What are the conditions in Papua New Guinea?
Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for next week, with temperatures predicted to be 31C and humidity soul-sapping. All 15 games will be played on the same pitch, which is expected to deteriorate as the tournament progresses.

How has New Zealand's build-up been?
Poor. Hudson was outspoken in his disappointment at New Zealand Football failing to organise an international in March. New Zealand's three best players, Winston Reid, Ryan Thomas and Tommy Smith, have all stayed in Europe (Smith has been told he won't play for New Zealand again under Hudson), top scorer Shane Smeltz has withdrawn through injury and midfielder Clayton Lewis was pulled out as a precaution after failing an ASB Premiership drugs test. The All Whites have played only two warm-up matches against amateur opposition in Brisbane, winning 2-0 and 1-0.

How's the NZ squad looking?
Good up front, shaky at the back. In Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas and Chris Wood, New Zealand have the firepower to blow OFC teams away but Hudson's cupboard of defenders is 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 marshall the centre of defence with Boxall, and Sam Brotherton, a 19-year-old who plays at Wisconsin University, the understudy.

What do the All Whites know about the island teams?
Hopefully more than 2012. The Solomon Islands are not as strong as they were four years ago but still have the dangerous Benjamin Totori. Vanuatu appear inexperienced, Fiji often underperform at major tournaments and New Caledonia will be strong, but with a major weakness in goal.

Where can I catch the action?
All All Whites games, the semifinals and final will be live on Sky Sport.

OFC Nations Cup
When: May 28-June 11
Where: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
What: This will be the 10th edition of the OFC Nations Cup. The winner of the OFC Nations Cup will qualify for the Fifa Confederations Cup in 2017
Defending champion: Tahiti (2012)

- NZ Herald

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