New All Whites breed straining at leash

BILLY HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2012

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OPINION: It's coming together nicely.

As the euphoria of the last World Cup morphs into anticipation for the next one, the All Whites, 2012 edition, is showing that it has the goods to give us another decent ride.

Against El Salvador last Wednesday, the All Whites played with confidence and verve.

They looked a side for whom "getting results" doesn't necessarily mean 90 minutes of graft and grind and a goal from a set piece, a side capable of keeping the ball and injecting moments of flair and imagination.

So promising were the performances of up-and-comers Michael Boxhall, Ian Hogg, Marco Rojas and particularly Kosta Barbarouses, that some of the heroes of the last World Cup campaign might find themselves surplus to requirements sooner than expected.

Tim Brown has gone of his own accord, but Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead are feeling the breath of the hungry new breed, straining and salivating at the leash for their go. Rory Fallon, confirmed as an All Whites legend for scoring the goal that took the team to South Africa, missed this game because he was doing his coaching qualifications. With alternatives aplenty at his disposal, Ricki Herbert might tell him to keep doing them.

One of the team's biggest successes was Ian Hogg. The left back or left wing back provides long overdue competition to Lochhead, offering greater pace and, if his stunning goal is any guide, penetration. If the youngster ensures that his aggression doesn't spill over into recklessness, then there's one less reason for Herbert to keep him in Lochhead's shadow.

But star of the night was goal scorer Barbarouses. The nomadic attacker of no fixed position could be of greatest service to the cause if allowed to roam freely just behind the front line, prompting attacks with the sort of deft lay off that invited Hogg to rampage into El Salvador's penalty box to score, and the exquisite pass which gave Shane Smeltz a golden chance in the first half.

The multi-talented Wellingtonian has pace, vision, touch and can score, all qualities he demonstrated with Brisbane Roar before heading to Russia.

Marco Rojas slipped slightly from the radar of Kiwi fans when he transferred from the Phoenix to Melbourne Victory last season and suffered injury to boot. But he showed a glimpse of his considerable repertoire when he bamboozled an El Salvador defender with a shake of the hips before sliding a shot against a post.

Defensively, there is also plenty to get enthused about. Wednesday's trio of Sigmund, and youngsters Boxhall and Smith would only get better with time together, but they may never get it when you consider that Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid are certain starters when available.

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What of veteran midfielders Simon Elliot and Ivan Vicelich? Elliot keeps getting mentioned in press releases as "unavailable through injury", which strongly suggests he's still firmly in Herbert's thoughts. But the nearly-38-year-old, one of the stars of South Africa, faces a massive fight against Father Time and players young enough to be his son if he's to regain his place in Herbert's starting 11.

Thirty-five-year-old Vicelich was another many thought would be handed a pair of golden slippers after South Africa. But there he was against El Salvador still doing a solid job in midfield. With Brazil only two years away, there might still be enough tread on the tyres to see Vicelich through.

It would be no surprise if Herbert was to stick with his 3-4-3 formation for the Honduras match today and the World Cup qualifiers beyond. He trusts it. The players have grown used to it. And it would certainly suit Hogg, who has the wheels to play the wide midfield role.

One final adjustment, to 3-5-2, would allow Barbarouses to slot in behind the front two where he could do some major damage.

Be excited, ladies and gentlemen. Be very excited.

- Sunday Star Times

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