In his weekly Road to Doha column, Michael Burgess reveals all the latest All Whites news in the buildup to their World Cup playoff against Costa Rica in June.
A familiar All Whites face is in line to return to the fold for the upcoming three-game series which culminates in the Doha duel with Costa Rica next month.
Marco Rojas hasn't played for the national team since November 2019 but is expected to be included when the squad is named on Tuesday. The 30-year-old has been in sparkling form for Melbourne Victory, with six goals in 14 games since the beginning of March (along with seven assists across the season).
Rojas also offers experience: he has been part of the All Whites environment for a decade (41 caps) and is one of a select few who experienced the Mexico playoffs in 2013, the Peru series four years later and the 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup.
Rojas was meant to be part of the recent Oceania World Cup qualifying tournament, but his release was blocked by Melbourne Victory due to their heavy schedule at the time.
Selection duel to be tight
Danny Hay's New Zealand squad will be one of the toughest to pick in recent memory, due to the plethora of choices. It wasn't so long ago that almost every overseas-based player was included in New Zealand senior teams - but next week more than 20 professionals will miss the cut.
Hay is expected to name up to 26 players to provide extra cover for injuries and Covid contingency, before the squad is trimmed to 23 for the Costa Rica match.
That will mean a prolonged audition for some players, especially the attacking midfielders, strikers and wingers, where there is the most intense positional competition, as they strive to make the final cut for the Intercontinental playoff on June 15.
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Peru clash headed for sellout?
When the All Whites run out against the Andean nation next month, they will face their biggest crowd since the 2017 series against, ahem, Peru.
It's understood that more than 30,000 tickets for the match in Barcelona have already been sold, with the large Peruvian community in Spain rallying behind their team.
New Zealand played in front of around 20,000 in Dublin against Ireland in November 2019, but the majority of games since then have been at empty stadiums. The clash in Lima in 2017 drew 50,000.
All Whites' campaign Zooming towards a conclusion
A recent Zoom meeting with the wider All Whites squad was typical of the catchups across this cycle. With the players spread far and wide, as well as Covid complications for two years, remote catch-ups have been essential - in contrast to the All Blacks or Black Caps, who have the luxury of regular extended time together.
The latest call featured more than 40 players, with time in breakout rooms before reverting to the whole group. The calls are typically held in the early morning in New Zealand, to encompass the players based in Europe and the United States. As well as the coaching staff, guest speakers have been drafted in, with Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott among those to impart their wisdom.