Sigmund to be paired with Nelsen at back
Canterbury football fans are set to see hometown favourites Ryan Nelsen and Ben Sigmund start an All Whites international in Christchurch for the first time tonight.
English premier league star Winston Reid's bad back may be Sigmund's lucky break for the World Cup qualifier against Tahiti - the All Whites' first game in Christchurch for six years.
Reid was to test his back last night but coach Ricki Herbert hinted he might bring the West Ham United defender off the bench and start Sigmund alongside his former Canterbury United team-mate Nelsen at AMI Stadium in Addington.
Reid, who missed the 2-0 win in Tahiti on Saturday after suffering back spasms in the final half hour of a premier league game against Arsenal, admitted yesterday his lower back and right hamstring were "still a bit sore".
He planned to have "a light jog and see how it goes" last night. "If I'm not ready, I won't make myself available. If it's not 100 per cent, I'm not going to risk anything."
Reid would not want to compromise the All Whites, but nor is he keen to risk the wrath of West Ham manager Sam Allardyce after becoming a Hammers regular.
Herbert said he hoped to give Reid some game time off the bench but had every faith in Sigmund to continue his form from the first leg in Papeete where he headed the All Whites' second goal.
"I can't speak highly enough of Siggy, at club level, let alone what he did the other night," Herbert said.
"He's one who's had to be patient, he's got some very good players in front of him. I think he's someone who's gone from strength to strength ... now he's one of the first names on the team sheet [at club level]."
Herbert said Sigmund took his chance in Tahiti "in his first real opportunity" for the All Whites for a while and was "definitely pushing to be part of the starting 11".
The All Whites' third South Islander, Jeremy Brockie, is also expected to start with top scorer Shane Smeltz nursing a slight hamstring twinge. Brockie is a former Canterbury United and Nelson Suburbs player, and made his All Whites debut in Christchurch against Malaysia in 2006.
Match promoters reported 7500 tickets had been pre-sold for tonight's game but Herbert is hopeful of a bigger walk-up crowd based on the support for his Wellington Phoenix team in Christchurch and "Ryan's at home for his first game, so I'm sure that'll be a good crowd puller.
"With Ben playing and if Brocks plays, it'll have a real [South Island] flavour to it."
Nelsen's return after missing the Papeete victory with a knee niggle means Herbert will revert to the three-man defence he's deployed since the World Cup playoff with Bahrain in 2009.
He is likely to adopt a 3-4-1-2 formation with Melbourne Victory's Marco Rojas tucking in behind Brockie and senior striker Chris Killen. Millwall's Chris Wood drops to the bench after missing a couple of chances on Saturday.
In a pointer to the All Whites' plan to attack Tahiti in depth, Greece-based Kosta Barbarouses has been named on the right flank in midfield ahead of Leo Bertos, Herbert's traditional right wingback.
Herbert hasn't selected Barbarouses to shackle him with a defensive role. He expected the All Whites would "see more of the ball" than in the physical first leg and Barbarouses will be encouraged to get forward to deliver crosses.
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta admitted yesterday his team's World Cup dream "is finished" after three Oceania qualifying group defeats.
But he has told his charges to use tonight's game "to prepare for the Confederations Cup finals in Brazil in June" where Tahiti will play as Oceania Nations Cup champions.
Etaeta plans to make two changes with defender Angelo Tchen representing Tahiti at the beach football world tournament in Dubai and striker Yannick Vero back in Papeete.
Captain Nicholas Vallar will drop back from midfield to take Tchen's defensive role.
- © Fairfax NZ News