Football: Selection questions vex All Whites coach Anthony Hudson

New Zealand Football All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. Photo/Brett Phibbs
New Zealand Football All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. Photo/Brett Phibbs

Anthony Hudson is a frustrated man.

The long and winding road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia continues on Saturday in Fiji for the All Whites, but the New Zealand coach is bemused by the ongoing questions over some of his selections.

For the home-and-away matches against Fiji - the return leg is in Wellington on Tuesday night - Hudson has assembled "the strongest squad" of his tenure, only sullied by the late injury withdrawal of Winston Reid.

But Hudson remains disappointed by the "negativity" around some of his decisions, particularly the surprise call-ups of Alex Rufer and Dane Ingham, and the omissions of Kosta Barbarouses and Storm Roux.

Rufer was a left-field selection - he has only played a total of 49 minutes for the Wellington Phoenix this season - although Hudson is not the first All Whites coach to spring a surprise or two.

"This situation about the selection, I just don't get it," said Hudson. "I don't understand how we are compared to a club team, do you know what I mean?

"We've had people making comments [about] players getting playing time at club teams and all this kind of thing. It's just bizarre to me."

Rufer hasn't appeared in the A League since early November, when he got four minutes at the end of a 2-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners, but that was irrelevant for Hudson.

"To compare us to the Phoenix, we're completely different," said Hudson. "We have a different selection policy, we are only allowed to pick Kiwi players.

"We have a completely different style of play, we train differently, we work differently, we have longer periods in between games [and] we are on a different run than the Phoenix. I would never be influenced by decisions at the Phoenix."

His words hint at a disconnect between the Wellington club and the national body, which surely needs to be repaired ahead of a huge six months for football in this country.

However, aside from Hudson's disquiet, the omens are good for the Fiji matches. Most of the starting XI have been in great form for their clubs, and the likes of Chris Wood and Marco Rojas will provide plenty of attacking threat.

Tommy Smith and Themi Tzimopoulos will anchor a strong central defence, although it's uncertain who will form the midfield shield in front of them, with questions over Michael McGlinchey (injury) and Bill Tuiloma (form).

Ryan Thomas looks unlikely to start on Saturday, as the PEC Zwolle winger only arrived in camp on Wednesday night.

The All Whites need four points from the two matches to assure their progress to the next stage, the two-legged Oceania final to be staged in August.

- NZ Herald

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