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

Football: Star striker vital for All Whites' slim chances

All Whites striker Chris Wood. Photo / Getty
All Whites striker Chris Wood. Photo / Getty

If the All Whites are to make an impression tomorrow against Mexico, Chris Wood needs to have a significant impact.

While the New Zealand defenders will have the busiest tasks - coping with the multitude of threats that El Tri possess - Wood will be New Zealand's primary attacking threat.

Even feeding off scraps of possession Wood tends to make things happen, with a happy knack of converting half-chances into genuine opportunities.

Since the end of last World Cup cycle, Wood has scored 50 per cent of the All Whites goals (eight of 16), including an impressive double against Japan in Tokyo, an equaliser against China and the vital winner in Oman.

He has also been a consistent scorer at club level, with 55 goals across the last five Championship seasons. The 24-year-old has started well for Leeds in this campaign, with seven goals in 13 games.

"I am enjoying my football," said Wood. "The team [Leeds United] is doing well which is the main thing. We are ticking along nicely and I hope I can bring that form into these games."

Wood, who has played more internationals (42) than anyone else in the current squad, is likely to have a lone ranger role up front today, with Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses getting forward to support when they can.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is debutant Liam Graham, who has taken the road less travelled to the All Whites.

Born in Melbourne, he spent four years in New Zealand as a teenager before time in Japan, Italy (at Ascoli and Vicenza) and the third tier of Spanish football. Now at English League One club Chesterfield, he has started their last three matches after being on the fringes at the start of the season.

"My goal is to prove that I deserve my place in the All Whites squad," said Graham. "There are huge things to gain from this tour for me. It is an exciting time for New Zealand football and I want to be part of it."

Around 1pm tomorrow we'll have a decent gauge on the progress of the All Whites under Hudson. There have been mixed results in his first two years, as Hudson has cast the net extremely wide with his player selection, but the next 14 months is what really counts.

Aside from the first half in Pasadena in 2010, the All Whites haven't been able to live with Mexico in four encounters since the turn of the decade. They conceded three goals in 21 minutes in the first half in Denver in 2011, before the 'Massacre at the Azteca' two years later. It wasn't just the concession of five goals - there could have been three or four more - but New Zealand's complete inability to get a foothold in the match, with almost no meaningful spells in possession.

"With the utmost respect to how it was before, things are different," said Hudson, when asked if there were any psychological scars from 2013. "We have a different group of players [and] half the squad are quite young now. I think that is in the past and we have a different mindset."

Mexico have already played 11 games this year, with victories over Paraguay, Chile, Senegal and Uruguay. All but three of tomorrow's squad play in Mexico's domestic league, with 10 European-based players overlooked for this fixture. But they can still call on Oribe Peralta, who tormented the All Whites in 2013, and Giovani dos Santos, who scored two goals in the 2011 match. Bundesliga-based Marco Fabian, who averages one goal every four games from midfield, with be another major threat.

"They are a great side, a tough side," said Wood. "We will be working hard on what we can do to stop them and then impose our style on the game. We need to be at our best to do well."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 10 Dec 2016 09:29:11 Processing Time: 532ms