Football: All Whites ready to face nemesis

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson is bullish about a new mindset and commitment that is driving his team ahead of the opening game in their bid to reach the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

New Zealand take the first step towards trying to qualify for their third World Cup tournament when they take on New Caledonia in Albany tomorrow.

The Oceania group World Cup qualifying game is the All Whites' first outing since last month's encouraging two-match visit to the United States when they lost 2-1 to Mexico and drew 1-1 with the US in strong displays against much higher ranked opposition.

But the most encouraging element Hudson spoke of today was the improved maturity in his squad.

Hudson predicted New Caledonia would encounter a much more confident New Zealand squad than in recent outings when the Island minnows had caused the All Whites considerable grief.

New Zealand Football still look back in horror to 2012 when New Caledonia stunned the All Whites 2-0 in Honiara at the Oceania Nations Cup, costing the organisation $1.3 million, as the result meant they failed to qualify for the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

The All Whites last played New Caledonia in June, winning 1-0 in Papua New Guinea in a Nations Cup match but they were far from impressive.

"It was a strange day," Hudson recalled today. "We had so many things happen that day.

"Mentally, we put so much pressure on ourselves. That included players and staff because of what had happened in Honiara four years ago. It was like this dark cloud over us. It was a semifinal, it was the same team and we had to win at all costs. So it was too much 'gotta win-win-win' as opposed to every other game where we just stuck to our plan and did what we said we would do.

"In that semifinal, one player had lost a family member, we had one player in Tom Doyle who had to be air-lifted out, we had the gun shooting in the morning where there was a lock-down under marshall law and the game could have been called off. It was just a strange, strange day.

"But we're a completely different team to the team we were in the semifinal against New Caledonia last time. We're a completely different team to the one we were in Honiara. We just need to have a fresh approach and make sure we leave everybody in the stadium proud of our efforts."

Hudson said the history between the two teams would ensure New Zealand did not take the visitors lightly.

"The plan is to win the game - simple as that really. The most important thing is that we start our World Cup qualifying campaign with a win.

"We know we're not just going to turn up and win. This is a game we will have to work for.

"We have not approached this game any differently from any other match. The coaching staff have prepared exactly the same way as we did for the Mexico and US games. We take this team seriously and we have prepared professionally. It's business as usual. No apprehension."

The All Whites will be without one of their most experienced players for both New Caledonia games, with Michael McGlinchey sidelined with a knee injury.

"It's really disappointing for Michael because he's such a committed player who works hard for club and country," Hudson said of the Wellington Phoenix midfielder. "Hopefully he'll recover quickly and be back with his club and country as soon as possible."

McGlinchey is the fourth front-line player to be forced out of the matches against New Caledonia, joining Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Rory Fallon on the sidelines.

But Hudson said he considered the squad he has together this week as the strongest he's had in his tenure.

"I would say this is probably our best squad ever, bar one or two players," he said. "This is the most depth we've ever had.

"We have some players unavailable yet we still have a really strong squad in all positions.

"Michael has dropped out yet we still have a very exciting midfield. I've been excited watching the boys at training this week."

Hudson said the improved attitude had created some pleasant selection headaches for him.

"I've had some decisions to make. Some of the young lads have done well. Having to leave one or two players out, again it's the first time I've really had to make decisions on players. I think the attitude of the team right now is really, really good and it has been for quite a while now. That's the most pleasing thing. If we can collectively have the attitude we've had at training this week going forward, we're going to keep improving.

"We've had these players for a couple of years now and they now know what is required of them. The squad is in a good place right now."


All Whites v New Caledonia
Kickoff: 3pm
Venue: QBE Stadium, Albany, Auckland
Live commentary: Join Brenton Vannisselroy from 2.55pm

- NZ Herald

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