Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Football: All Whites confident they have the wood on PNG

Michael McGlinchey backs his team.
Michael McGlinchey backs his team.

All White captain Michael McGlinchey admits Chris Wood is a loss, but is confident that New Zealand can prevail without their key striker in the Oceania Nations Cup final. It was revealed that Wood wouldn't be in the squad for today's decider against Papua New Guinea, as he is returning home to attend his sister's wedding.

Unfortunately Wood's absence has almost overshadowed the build-up to the game, after New Zealand Football's comical performance on Thursday, where they first denied the Leeds player was leaving camp before later confirming that, yes, he actually was.

It was a PR manoeuvre you might expect in a dodgy dictatorship but has become all too familiar with NZF.

McGlinchey said that the senior leadership group knew about Wood's situation at the start of the week, but the news wasn't broken to the rest of the squad until after the semifinal win.

The bigger issue is can the All Whites win without Wood? He is their leading scorer at this tournament and has scored half of the team's goals (8/16) over the past three years.

"He's obviously a big player for us - probably our best player - but you never build a team around a single individual," McGlinchey said. "He is a loss for us but it gives an opportunity for people to come in.

"We've got the depth and we think we can go ahead and win this thing."

The 1-0 semifinal win over New Caledonia was an ugly affair, as the All Whites were outplayed for long periods and were unable to keep possession for any significant spells. That might raise some long term concerns but all that really matters is they got the result, also the equation today. The All Whites simply have to win, in the most important match for the sport in the country in three years. A positive result means a ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, which brings a financial windfall of around $2.5 million. It also puts the team back on the world stage, with three guaranteed fixtures against high profile opponents and some glamour pre-tournament friendlies.

But today might not be straightforward. The All Whites have a reshuffled backline, and the suspended Themi Tzimopoulos is a significant loss. And PNG shouldn't be underestimated, as they qualified top in Group A, and remain unbeaten in the tournament. The Kapuls will also count on a raucous home crowd, after their dramatic semifinal win on Wednesday.

"We are confident," said McGlinchey. "We've scored 10 goals and conceded one and we have a few wins in a row. Obviously the performance wasn't the best in the last game but we got the job done."

- NZ Herald

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