The Wellington Phoenix remain upbeat about next week's Football United Tour, despite Newcastle United now bringing a young and understrength squad to New Zealand.
Fellow English Premier League club West Ham United are expected to be at full strength for the four-team tournament, which also involves Sydney FC, but Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told reporters that several top players who had previously been listed to travel, including World Cup stars Tim Krul, Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote, would not be coming.
"We're going to have four or five key [World Cup] players away for a few weeks, so it was a chance for the youngsters," Pardew said of a 2-1 midweek loss to Oldham Athletic.
"We think most of our guys will come back for the tournament we have in Germany [next month], so that will be the first real indication of our first-team. Up until then, it's up to our young players, particularly in New Zealand. I'm taking a young team. It's a chance for them to get themselves near the first-team. We had a lot of our big boys missing."
Phoenix general manager David Dome couldn't confirm Newcastle's tour party.
"We have yet to get the official tour list," Dome said.
"We have certainly got a number of tour lists, but we're still waiting on the final one. We've been waiting on it for a few days. The initial list had everybody on it but that was subject to fitness and injuries and World Cup participation. It'll still be Newcastle United that's coming out."
The tour kicks off in Dunedin on Tuesday with Newcastle versus Sydney, and the Phoenix take on West Ham in Auckland on Wednesday.
Wellington hosts a double-header tomorrow week, with the Phoenix playing Newcastle and West Ham tackling Sydney.
West Ham arrive in Auckland tomorrow, and Newcastle jet in on Sunday.
As of Tuesday, 27,000 tickets had been sold for Wellington, but only 7000 for Dunedin and 12,000 for Auckland.
The Phoenix are the main underwriters of the tour, with some support from city councils.
"We'll have the likes of [West Ham striker] Andy Carroll on our shores, who's probably worth more than most of the A-League put together," said Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.
"There's always one or two players that will be injured and out, or for some reason not coming along. But these sides are full of stars and full of international-type players . . . The bottom line with big clubs is you never actually know [who is coming] until they get here.
"Whether they [World Cup players] play or not, they'll have a very strong side out. We're focused on playing big clubs, not individual players. We're playing West Ham and Newcastle and that is a tremendous opportunity for our players and our fans."
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante, who yesterday signed a one-year extension to keep him at the club until 2015-16, agreed.
He was also optimistic of causing the big-budget clubs problems on the pitch.
"From what I understand they've only been back in pre-season maybe two or three weeks," Durante said.
"We've had five or six weeks under our belt already and we're looking pretty good. It's hard to gauge, obviously having never played against them, only watching on TV. But I think we're going to have a good chance, we're set up and organised to have a real crack at them.
"Big Andy Carroll at the top will be a handful, obviously he's a great player and a big boy. If they do go direct we'll have a tough night but looking forward to it. You want to play against the best players and we're not going to get this opportunity too often."
It remains unclear whether Michael McGlinchey - who is at the centre of a contract dispute between the Phoenix and the Central Coast Mariners - will feature in the EPL games.
"Hopefully it happens, he's a brilliant bloke and a fantastic player," Durante said.
- The Dominion Post
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