Young All Whites put in solid effort against SA
Interim All Whites coach Neil Emblen was upbeat about his side's 0-0 draw with South Africa in Auckland tonight, but his position on the job fulltime remains one of que sera sera.
With a raft of players missing from both sides, a fresh-looking New Zealand team - with an average age of just 20 - acquitted themselves well in keeping a clean sheet and showing flashes of speed and style in attack before tiring in the second half.
New Zealand rode their luck at times, including 30 seconds in when Ayanda Patosi was clean on goal via a simple through ball, forcing goalkeeper and captain for the night, Glen Moss, to rush way out of his penalty area and deal with the threat.
However, the clean sheet and a number of other positives had interim Emblen relatively content.
"I thought it was a good game. You could tell there was fatigue in the second half, I thought it was very hard for the boys but I was generally pleased about the way we played," Emblen said.
"We came up against a very good South African team who used the ball brilliantly well at times and showed us how quick they can move with the ball, which is something we're trying to emulate so it was a great experience.
"I thought Michael Boxall was outstanding. He looked like an international centre back. He showed his pace and I thought he was excellent defensively as well.
"I'm disappointed for Ryan Thomas, he rolled his ankle which hindered the performance we know he could have made, but he still made an excellent contribution. We've seen him in training this week, he's a special player.
"Him and Tyler Boyd, for him to be working the way he was chasing down the line in the 90th minute, and still looking lively, I thought he looked the sharpest player on the pitch and always gave the South African teams some concerns."
When the inevitable questions came at Emblen over why he hadn't applied for the job fulltime, he remained of the attitude that if New Zealand Football wanted him, they would let him know.
"I'm here, they [NZF] can go through the applicants and see who is there - I live two kilometres away from the organisation so they can come and find me if they want me to carry on," he said.
"If the new coach comes I would just love to stay involved on the technical team in some way, shape or form. There is no [current] contract, if someone says we want you to do the job, I'll think I'm ready."
The absence of top defenders Winston Reid and Tommy Smith was evident for New Zealand, with the Kiwis often guilty of putting themselves under pressure with basic errors at the back.
But first and foremost, Emblen's key objective of a safe start was realised - ultimately throughout the full match. He was relieved the mistakes of Tokyo two months ago, when the All Whites were 4-0 down to Japan in the first 16 minutes, weren't repeated.
While there were a few shaky moments at the back, they were balanced by some enterprising moments going forward.
Marco Rojas shot wide in the 26th minute after he collected fallout from a decent Kiwi attack. Rojas was also central to a swift counter attack which saw Boyd slide in on a low cross but unable to make contact.
Combining with Rojas and Boyd, the All Whites attack looked more than capable of causing the South Africans problems.
Thomas, who has been making waves in Dutch football with PEC Zwolle, gave glimpses of a player with excellent control and skill in his feet while defender Bill Tuiloma - who plies his trade in France with Marseille - also looked strong at the back for the Kiwis.
Tuiloma also possesses a good, long throw which can be well deployed near the byline. Unfortunately for him, this was one of the shortest All Whites teams in recent memory and no-one was able to complete a header when he chucked the ball into the box.
As the game wore on, the attacks were more frequently at Moss's end of the field with South Africa picking up scraps in dangerous areas, including a Reneilwe Letsholonyana shot which hit the bar.
Emblen used the game to give run-outs to the majority of his bench, with Cameron Howieson, Matt Ridenton, Jason Hicks, Tamati Williams and James Musa all getting minutes under their belts. Part of the reason for the rotation was due to player fatigue, Emblen said.
On a night which offered a peek into the future of New Zealand football, the result was as encouraging as the sound turnout of 9,266 fans who paid to see two depleted teams, duke it out on a cold night in Auckland.