Michael Brown: NZ Football score another own goal

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Skipper Chris Wood, who has scored four goals in the All Whites' Nations Cup campaign, will miss Saturday's final to attend his sister's wedding. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek
Skipper Chris Wood, who has scored four goals in the All Whites' Nations Cup campaign, will miss Saturday's final to attend his sister's wedding. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek

We shouldn't be surprised that, once again, the focus on football in New Zealand is on off-field issues. In some ways, it provides a distraction from how poorly the All Whites played in yesterday's Nations Cup semifinal against New Caledonia.

It emerged today that Chris Wood will miss Saturday's final against Papua New Guinea to attend his sister's wedding in New Zealand. It was a date set, we were told, 12 months earlier aligned to international dates available at the time.

The issue is not that Wood is skipping the final - that's his choice - but New Zealand Football's handling of the situation. NZME's Jason Pine made enquiries today when he discovered Wood would be leaving camp but was told by a NZF spokesman in Port Moresby that was incorrect. Four hours later, they put out a press release explaining Wood would, indeed, miss the final.

It raises a number of questions.

When, exactly, were NZF going to tell us Wood was going to miss the final? Did they hope we wouldn't notice when the teams ran out on Saturday?

Were they trying to hide it from the opposition? If so, are they that afraid of the Island teams they need to adopt that sort of approach?

Why didn't they signal it when the squad was announced? They were happy to explain the situation around usual captain Winston Reid, and were more than happy to put the boot into Tommy Smith, but no mention was made of Wood's circumstances. Why not? In many ways, that was an opportunity to illustrate Wood's commitment, considering he was prepared to help the side to the final but not necessarily play in it.

NZF have endured so many PR disasters over the past couple of years, many of their own making. This, surely, was a chance for them to front-foot an issue.

Maybe they will say they hoped they could convince Wood to remain in camp, as coach Anthony Hudson explained in a statement today. If that was the outcome, good. They could then trumpet that.

As it is, the All Whites go into Saturday's final without their usual skipper and best player (Reid), their next best defender (Smith), the country's current top scorer (Shane Smeltz), best goalkeeper (Glen Moss), best midfielder (Ryan Thomas) and now their new captain and best player at the Nations Cup (Wood).

Wood scored four of the All Whites' 10 goals so far in this campaign, including the winner against New Caledonia, even though he missed nearly two games with a painful shoulder injury.

The All Whites should still be good enough to beat PNG, although yesterday's performance will have done little to convince fans, and take their place at next year's Confederations Cup in Russia.

Winning is essential if they have any chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Wood has always been a direct sort of player. Too bad NZF couldn't adopt the same attitude.

- NZ Herald

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