Young All Whites bravehearts front Japan
Interim All Whites coach Neil Emblen will hand teenagers Ryan Thomas and Tyler Boyd debuts after naming a bold, young and attacking XI to tackle the might of World Cup-bound Japan in chilly Tokyo tonight.
Emblen, who was Ricki Herbert's assistant for the failed World Cup qualification games against Mexico in November, is basically on trial for the permanent job as New Zealand Football continue a drawn-out review process.
Despite that, there is no thought of damage control against the Samurai Blue, featuring superstar midfielders Keisuke Honda, of AC Milan, and Shinji Kagawa, of Manchester United.
Thomas, playing for PEC Zwolle in the Dutch Eredivisie, will start as the right-sided midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation.
Boyd, of Wellington Phoenix, partners Chris Wood up front, while Bill Tuiloma, Andrew Durante, Michael Boxall and Storm Roux comprise the back four.
Tim Payne is the holding midfielder, with Michael McGlinchey (central) and Kosta Barbarouses (left) joining Thomas as the more advanced midfield trio.
Goalkeeper Glen Moss captains his country for the first time.
"It is an attacking, mobile lineup and exciting on paper," Emblen said from Tokyo last night.
"I've watched a lot of footage on Japan, they're quick, they're sharp, their movement is great. So we need players that are going to be able to live with that. Tim and the back four will be there to cement a good base. Everybody else will be looking to attack but those other five players still have strict defensive responsibilities, otherwise we'll be chasing."
A wet evening is forecast and the All Whites had their first training run in 3 degrees Celsius.
The friendly game honours a rescheduling agreement after the All Whites reluctantly withdrew from a 2011 match because of the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
It will be Japan's last game at the historic National Stadium, being rebuilt for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Emblen was expecting most of the 48,000 seats to be filled.
With no real pressure riding on the result, he would ask his players to enjoy the occasion but was conscious of restoring the faith of the New Zealand public after the let-down against Mexico.
"Enjoy it yeah, but no-one enjoys it when you get hammered. So there's certainly a focus on playing with true Kiwi spirit. Remain tough and hard to beat and people have to earn goals. We're not giving away anything by being too blasé about playing technical football. Those technical players need to work, be sensible in their approach and not overplay as well."
The All Whites, who only assembled on Monday, are at long odds to even grab a draw but Emblen said there was always hope.
"We've all been involved in results where not always the best football team wins. That's the beauty of the game. There's a lot riding on it for all these boys. Their international futures and getting the public to believe that we can do really well in a new cycle aiming for Russia [2018 World Cup] and the Confederations Cup in a couple of years time."