All Whites 'still hopeful' of having Nelsen, Reid
FRED WOODCOCK AND TONY SMITH
Defenders Winston Reid and Ryan Nelsen are still in London receiving treatment from their respective English Premier League club medical teams after picking up injuries over the weekend.
Nelsen has remained in London to have a knee injury assessed by Queens Park Rangers medical staff after receiving a knock at West Bromwich Albion, while Reid is still awaiting the results of scans after suffering from back spasms in West Ham United's loss to Arsenal.
The All Whites squad flies out to Tahiti tomorrow for Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Papeete and it appears the best-case scenario now is that both players would link up with the team in Tahiti.
"We've been aware of the injuries since the weekend, and unfortunately they have prevented the players from travelling," said New Zealand Football high performance director Fred de Jong said in a statement today.
"We will continue to liaise with the players and medical staff at their respective clubs to give them the best possible chance of playing for the All Whites.''
Reid, who suffered a head knock and had to be replaced after 23 minutes of the Hammers' game against QPR a week ago, played the full 90 minutes in last Sunday's 3-1 defeat to Arsenal despite the back spasm problem. He was unable to be replaced because the Hammers had used their three allotted substitutes.
New Zealand Football chief executive Grant McKavanagh yesterday said that he was ''very hopeful'' of getting both players, if not directly to Tahiti to play, then to Christchurch for the return leg at AMI Stadium next Tuesday night.
''Winston wants to be here, he's just got to get through the scan and make sure there's nothing untoward in it. It's pretty positive.''
The World Cup qualifiers are being played in the official Fifa international ''window'' when professional clubs are required to release their players. But Reid's and Nelsen's club managers may not be overjoyed to see their prized charges travel halfway around the world and play two matches in four days.
QPR, managed by former Wales coach Mark Hughes, is bottom of the English premier league and have already lost some key defenders through injury.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce slammed NZF for calling Reid up for a friendly against Jamaica in Auckland in February where he got concussed and missed several key promotion run-in games.
Meanwhile, McKavanagh sees no reason why next Tuesday's match can't sell out.
As of yesterday about 4500 tickets had been pre-sold for the Christchurch fixture, a figure which McKavanagh described as ''very encouraging'' this far out from the match.
It certainly looks good against Auckland, who had a total of 4000 pre-sold tickets for the 6-1 rout against the Solomon Islands at North Harbour Stadium last month. Aucklanders were put on notice before the match and the total crowd of 7900 will have done little to strengthen their claims for future matches.
Christchurch has a prime opportunity to do just that, in what will also be captain Ryan Nelsen's first match in his home city, his 50th A-internatonal for New Zealand, and the city's first All Whites match since a 1-0 win against Malaysia at QEII Park in 2006.
McKavanagh is hopeful of a crowd of 12,000-13,000, more than the 10,000 who turned up six years ago, but would like the 17,000-seat stadium to sell out.
''We'd like to see the place full. There's no reason why it can't be full,'' he said yesterday. ''You've got to aim high to get high, but anywhere around the 12,000-13,000 mark would be good.
''The Christchurch people are certainly supporting it. To have that many pre-sales at this stage is extremely encouraging.''
All Whites assistant coach Neil Emblen believes the short three-day turnaround between the two qualifying matches will suit New Zealand considerably more than Tahiti.
Given Tahiti is almost a day behind New Zealand time, it has made the already short turnaround between the two internationals even trickier, with the first match on Saturday (NZT) in Papeete and the return leg next Tuesday. And there's also the travel factor.
''I think our players will be in a better physical condition to do it than their players,'' Emblen said. ''They know how to look after themselves after games, they've got good medical staff and they're used to backing up in Europe. It shouldn't affect us too much.''
Even if it does, Emblen acknowledged New Zealand's depth is such that rotation is a viable option. He pointed to the example of Jeremy Brockie, who was excellent against New Caledonia in Noumea last month but wasn't used at all against the Solomons four days later.
Emblen was fully aware of the points situation; two wins against Tahiti could secure a berth in the World Cup intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from CONCACAF (North and Central America, and the Caribbean) next year, depending on the results of the New Caledonia-Solomons matches on the same days.
- © Fairfax NZ News