Danny Hay is racing the clock, facing the toughest schedule that any All Whites coach has had in years.
The New Zealand job is never easy, with the logistics of getting a team together and arranging games, but coaches usually have the chance to build a squad across a World Cup cycle, taking the best part of four years to assess and develop talent.
But Hay's tenure hinges on a make or break nine-month period.
After the matches in the window against Curacao (tomorrow morning) and Bahrain (Wednesday), there could be two more games in November, and possibly one or two more in January (less likely), before the Oceania World Cup qualifying tournament, set for March in Qatar.
Negotiate that – which won't be straightforward, given the searing heat and the expected absence of some key players for the elongated tournament in the middle of the club season – and the All Whites will then face an intercontinental playoff in June.
Before all of that, Hay has to fix on his best combination, ideal formation and optimal game plans. It's accelerated development.
Ricki Herbert had 17 matches between 2007-2009, before the successful series against Bahrain, then 23 games leading into the 2013 playoff with Mexico.
In the last cycle, Anthony Hudson had 25 matches ahead of the showdown with Peru in November 2017.
Hay hasn't been in charge for a full cycle – he was appointed in August 2019 – but the games against Curacao and Bahrain are the third and fourth he has overseen across 775 days in the job.
There are reasons, mostly around Covid-19, but it has changed the equation for the coaching team, meaning key decisions have to be taken on a smaller body of evidence.
"It's almost a little bit like speed dating in some of these windows," joked Hay. "Because you don't get that long to actually work with the players. That was the luxury that we had in Tokyo [at the Olympics].
"But these new players that are coming in uncapped, or some of the older, senior players that have been brought into the environment, they have to pick up things pretty damned quickly, because we don't have that luxury of spending time on the training pitch to iron out any little deficiencies."
The work in Japan was invaluable, with a core of All Whites players (11 from that Oly Whites squad are in Bahrain) but nothing replicates time with the senior team.
The likes of Michael Boxall and Bill Tuiloma are back this week, but Hay hasn't worked with PSV Eindhoven midfielder Ryan Thomas since November 2019, while he won't be able to call up any A-League players until at least January, based on travel restrictions.
With one eye on March, Hay needs to quickly evaluate the merits of his squad, try to give game time to fringe players and achieve some confidence-boosting results.
"That's a really fine balancing act," said Hay. "I wish it wasn't the case but this is really our start on the road to Qatar 2022. I wish we were saying that a couple of years ago [but] with the hiatus we have had, this is the start of it."
Hay isn't yet wedded to a particular shape, after alternating between a back four and a 3-5-2 system during his tenure.
"We want to be flexible, depending on what players are available," said Hay. "It's about trying to put our best players out on the pitch in their most effective positions, obviously taking into account how the opposition are going to set up."
The time frame is challenging, but on the plus side Hay has been blessed with a talented young generation on the rise.
In the decisive game against Peru in Lima in 2017, six of the 14 players who featured were drawn from the A-League, four from Major League Soccer and one from domestic football, with only three from European clubs.
Four years on, it's conceivable that Hay's strongest XI could be almost entirely European-based players, with more plying their trade there than ever before.