Premier League stars bring steel, silk

DANNY HAY
Last updated 10:18 07/10/2012
Ryan Nelsen
Getty Images
PREMIER LEAGUE CLASS: All Whites' captain and Queen's Park Rangers' defender Ryan Nelsen.

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OPINION: The All Whites will all but guarantee themselves Oceania's World Cup playoff berth with a pair of victories over Tahiti in the coming days.

The only challenge that I can see will come from the conditions Papeete throws at them in the first game on Saturday.

That said, the heat and humidity have always been factors when playing in the Islands, so should come as no surprise.

While Tahiti hold the mantle of champions of Oceania with their victory in the Nations Cup earlier in the year, they should recognise that the present All Whites side is markedly different from the one that imploded during that tournament.

The big difference is in the attitude. There has undoubtedly been an adjustment of mindset in the coaching staff, but a major factor is the presence of Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid.

In the Premier League there is zero room for mediocrity, and these two players bring that approach to the All Whites' camp.

It noticeably has a positive effect on other players in the squad.

The Tahitians would be foolish to underestimate the importance that the duo have on All Whites' performances.

Conceding soft goals through sloppy play isn't a consideration with Nelsen and Reid at the helm, so Tahiti will have to work extremely hard for anything they hope to get from the game.

The one gripe I had from the first round of World Cup qualifying games last month was the lack of action the majority of our talented youngsters saw.

While I understand that these games are all about ensuring wins, I think nothing is lost by Marco Rojas, Chris Wood, Tim Payne and Kosta Barbarouses all getting significant game time.

They add a mixture of enthusiasm, athleticism and unbridled skill that needs to be fused with the experience and leadership of Nelsen and co.

Only Barbarouses played a full game last time out and was, in many people's eyes, the man-of-the-match.

It's these players who need to be blooded and comfortable with top-level international football should we qualify for Brazil in 2014.

I genuinely believe Ricki Herbert recognises this, but it's a matter of him acting upon it, which as a coach is a tougher call to make.

The other feature of the coming weekend will be how the Phoenix fare missing Herbert and some key personnel when they play away against Melbourne Heart.

While the top European leagues shut up shop during the international window, the A-League plays through.

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The Phoenix, more so than any other side, suffer from a policy that is frankly, a joke. They will likely lose seven players, meaning some young academy players may be called upon to fill gaps.

Replacing goalkeepers Mark Paston and Glen Moss is going to be difficult, but I think Scott Basalaj has shown through his exploits with the NZ U17's that he has all he tools to play at that level if given the chance.

The biggest loss will be Ben Sigmund.

The Phoenix simply do not have another player in the “Siggy” mould at the club.

It's going to be an interesting fixture, but one that could potentially announce another young player to the professional scene here in New Zealand, if someone rises to the occasion.

- Danny Hay is a former All White.

- Fairfax Media

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