All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen today revealed he was "massively" worried about the prospect of missing the World Cup playoff with Bahrain with a back injury.
Stuff.co.nz will have full rolling coverage of the All Whites v Bahrain qualifier on Sunday morning, including interviews and reports by reporter Tony Smith at the match.
Asked at a press conference in Dubai, if he had missed Blackburn Rovers' match against Arsenal last weekend just to rest up for the All Whites, Nelsen said: "No of course not. I couldn't even bend over and touch my toes on the Sunday, I was struggling quite a bit.
"I did a fitness test on the Saturday [before the Arsenal match] which involved going out on the field and realising how much pain there was and walking straight back in. I was struggling big-time."
He said he was concerned when he arrived at the All Whites' training base in Dubai on Monday that he might not be fit for the game.
"But they gave me some pretty good hard drugs and I've been taking that for the past few days," he quipped. "And the more you get going, it loosens up, the physios and doctors with the NZ team are very good.
But Nelsen said he was determined not to miss Sunday morning's first leg match in Manama. "I don't think I need to state the importance of it. In anyone's career, it's absolutely massive. If I can tick the World Cup box, there's not too many to tick off, it would be a real nice icing on the cake.
There was a "different edge" to the World Cup qualifier than to a regular season English premier league encounter.
"Premier league is constant, it's week in week out. You generally know your opposition, the stadiums you play in and the surroundings. It's like your job, but this is a one-off sort of thing. It's a do or die situation, you can't go out next week and get the three points back. It means everything."
Asked if he had ever fretted Nelsen would miss the Manama match, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert responded: "Only for the last five years!''
"We eased Ryan into it and it's taken three and a half days [to declare him ready],'' Herbert said. But he said he "would have played him if he wasn't 100 per cent'' because Nelsen was so important to the All Whites' cause.
Herbert will name his starting lineup tomorrow (NZ time) when the All Whites leave for Manama.
Assistant-coach Brian Turner and technical adviser Raul Blanco were sent over yesterday as an advance guard to check the facilities before the team's arrival.
- © Fairfax NZ News