Pressure off Smeltz to start for All Whites
Sharpshooter Shane Smeltz has faith in the All Whites' up-and-coming attackers to do the job against Tahiti tonight if he cannot lead the line.
The 31-year-old is nursing a hamstring twinge which is likely to restrict him to a role off the bench with Marco Rojas and Jeremy Brockie likely to start alongside Chinese-based frontrunner Chris Killen.
Smeltz netted against Tahiti last Saturday night in Papeete to join 1982 World Cup captain Steve Sumner as New Zealand's second top marksman on 23 goals.
Smeltz is usually one of the first names Ricki Herbert jots down on his teamsheet. But the Perth Glory man doesn't take his place for granted because there is "competition throughout the whole squad".
"It's the strongest squad there's ever been [in my experience]."
He has played plenty of football with Killen but is equally comfortable linking with the younger brigade, Brockie, Rojas, Chris Wood and Kosta Barbarouses.
"We've played quite a lot together, all of us now. Ricki [Herbert] has managed to give everyone a run."
Smeltz' absence gives Brockie - who has previously played for the All Whites in midfield and even at right back - a chance to score his first senior international goal in his 34th appearance.
Most expect the prolific Smeltz to eventually become New Zealand's all-time top scorer.
He is now just five goals behind current record holder Vaughan Coveny. Smeltz has played 46 times for the All Whites since 2003 and is averaging a goal every two games.
Coveny made 64 times appearances. Smeltz has surpassed one of New Zealand football's all-time greats, current team manager Brian Turner and Sumner.
Both of them were midfielders, although Turner played up front in the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign.
"It's nice, it's something that people talk about, but it's not something I am concentrating on. But obviously it was good to get the goal and keep up there in the records," Smeltz said.
He was happy he could relieve some of the pressure in Papeete with his strike in the 24th minute. "It's always important to get that first goal and to try and get it as early as possible."
Smeltz said Tahiti were a physical team but they might not relish "coming here and playing against us.
"They would have felt their best chance of getting something out of us would have been on their home turf.
"They are a big side and they put themselves about, but I think on a good pitch we can play around that a bit more and I expect to see that in this game."
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