Ryan Nelsen's knee a worry for All Whites
The naming of two teenaged rookies provided the initial talking points as coach Ricki Herbert unveiled his latest All Whites squad, but not for the first time attention soon turned to the fitness and availability of Ryan Nelsen.
Midfielders Tim Payne, 18, and Cameron Howieson, 17, are the two newbies, graduates of New Zealand's age-group system and now professionals in England with Blackburn and Burnley respectively.
Tottenham's Nelsen was named to captain the All Whites at next month's OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands, which doubles as a qualifying tournament for both the World Cup and Confederations Cup and is preceded by two warm-up games in the United States.
Nelsen will definitely miss the friendlies against El Salvador (May 24 in Houston) and Honduras (May 27 in Dallas) and Herbert said yesterday the 34-year-old defender would probably withdraw from the Solomon Islands tournament as well.
Herbert spent time with both Nelsen and Tottenham's doctor during a recent visit to England and said his skipper was still troubled by a continuing knee injury.
Nelsen will captain New Zealand at the London Olympics and Herbert said he was committed to the remainder of the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign.
"If we kind of force the issue now, then we get a bit-part player who's going to struggle and who's going to be a concern," Herbert said. "Then nationally we're probably going to get nothing and that's no good for anybody. There is a strong chance that we may elect not to take him. If that's the right thing to do at the moment, then I'm certainly happy to do that. Sometimes there's a decision to say that, medically, the best thing to do is for the player to rest.
"There's Olympics coming up ... and we've got qualifiers and we'll have friendlies throughout the back end of the season as well. So the last thing we want to do is rule people out long-term, if we can help them through the short-term. If this decision is made, then it's certainly in the player's interests."
Herbert said he would probably make a call on Nelsen today or tomorrow but in Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall and Ivan Vicelich he has ample central defensive cover.
The top four teams at the Nations Cup progress to the third stage of Oceania World Cup qualifying held during windows in September, October and next March, while the tournament winner will play at next year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Daniel, David Mulligan and Andy Boyens are the most notable absentees from the squad, although Herbert said he may add players to join the team in the Solomon Islands.
Despite their youth, Payne and Howieson are both likely to make their international debuts.
"They're talented young boys that need an opportunity to come into a broader All Whites squad. [Howieson] is a left-sided player who can play more so in midfield and I think that's an area of the park that will be great for us to strengthen," Herbert said.
"He's doing well to be playing in that side [Burnley]. Without making promises I think there'll be opportunities."
All Whites squad: Jake Gleeson**, Glen Moss, Mark Paston, Michael Boxall, Tony Lochhead*, Ryan Nelsen*, Winston Reid, Ben Sigmund, Tommy Smith, Ivan Vicelich, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie, Aaron Clapham, Cameron Howieson, Dan Keat, Michael McGlinchey, Tim Payne, Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses, Rory Fallon, Chris Killen, Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood*OFC Nations Cup only, **USA tour onlyUSA tour May 24: v El Salvador, Houston May 27: v Honduras, DallasOFC Nations Cup June 2: v Fiji June 4: v Papua New Guinea June 6: v Solomon Islands June 8: Semifinals June 10: Final