Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Three obstacles facing the All Whites

New Zealand's Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Solomon Island's Benjamin Totori go after the ball. Photo / Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz
New Zealand's Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Solomon Island's Benjamin Totori go after the ball. Photo / Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

Herald football writer Michael Burgess looks at three key factors ahead of the All Whites' OFC Nations Cup final against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.

The Chris Wood factor

His absence looms large over this game. Wood's choice to attend his sister's wedding is a personal one and cannot be too heavily criticised, especially as the tournament window dates changed from those originally set. But the Leeds striker leaves a considerable void. In the last three years Wood has scored half of the All Whites' goals, and during the same period no other player has notched more than two. He's also become a strong leader in this team, among a fairly raw squad.

Don't underestimate Papua New Guinea

The All Whites are the favourites on Saturday night, and deservedly so. The PNG squad is made up almost entirely of players from their domestic league, while New Zealand has European-based professionals, a large contingent of A-League players and two based in South Africa.

And the All Whites have yet to concede a goal from open play in this tournament, with four straight victories. But PNG will count on a raucous home support, and they have shown great resilience to avoid defeat against both Tahiti and New Caledonia and beat the Solomon Islands. And they will be aware of history; the only previous time these two teams met in Port Moresby (in 1997), a strong All Whites team (featuring Danny Hay, Simon Elliott, Chris Jackson and Vaughan Coveny) lost 1-0 to the Kapuls.

Inexperience in the back division

No Winston Reid, no Tommy Smith, no Glen Moss, no Deklan Wynne, no Storm Roux and now no Themi Tzimopoulos (suspended). Coach Anthony Hudson will field a relatively green defensive unit, with Michael Boxall the only player with substantial All Whites experience. But goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic has been impressive over the last two years, and Luke Adams has made significant progress during this tournament. Bill Tuiloma - who was off his game in the semi-final - will be hugely important today; as the defensive shield in front of the back line.

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