Tough task as inexperienced All Whites squad get set to tackle China

Five years ago a fresh-faced 17-year-old Chris Wood became the youngest Kiwi to play in the English Premier League.

Tomorrow, as the veteran of an inexperienced All Whites squad facing China in a friendly in Nanchang, he will become the youngest player to captain the All Whites.

The 22-year-old striker said he was excited about the role and would lean on 24-year-old former captain Tommy Smith for experience and advice.

Smith had previously been the youngest captain in All Whites history after leading the team in a 2-2 draw against El Salvador in 2012.


"I think it's great that Tommy's come back into the squad, we all know he's a top quality player and having him back in is going to be a big asset for all of us," said Wood.

"I feel good about taking on the role too. It's a young squad but we have a good bunch of five or six older lads who are ready to step up and lead, so we're all going to step up together, and I'm going to take it all in my stride."

Wood has been a pro footballer in England's top tiers for six years and with 38 caps is the second most experienced international in coach Anthony Hudson's 22-man group, behind Jeremy Brockie with 45.

The powerful striker has featured in only five of Leicester's 11 English Premier League games this season, with most appearances coming late in the game off the bench. He said this was a transitional year for him at the club.

"It's just about waiting for my chance. We have three very good strikers at the club other than myself, so I just have to bide my time and keep concentrated and focused and when the time comes take my chance."

In the absence of leaders such as Winston Reid, Glen Moss and Andrew Durante, there were limited options for the captain's armband in a squad that has only four players over the age of 25 and includes eight teenagers.

"The captaincy wasn't something I was thinking about but I always wanted to do well for my country, but I didn't really think about the armband until Anthony mentioned it."

Hudson has a smorgasbord of exciting attacking options to work with but precious little cover in defence.


He will likely start with a back four of Storm Roux, Tommy Smith, Michael Boxall and Bill Tuiloma, as his defen-sive options from the bench - Deklan Wynne, Jesse Edge, Adam Mitchell and James Musa - have only one cap between them.

Swedish professional Dan Keat will compete with Tim Payne to partner Michael McGlinchey in the middle of the park, while the exciting trio of Ryan Thomas, Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses will likely support Wood upfront.

China are ranked 88th in the world, 43 places above New Zealand. They have won three of their last four internationals, against Paraguay, Thailand and Kuwait.