A bullish New Zealand Football high performance director Fred de Jong said the All Whites could "absolutely" qualify for another World Cup without Ryan Nelsen.
"It's a tough ask, with or without him," de Jong said.
"In recent times, the All Whites have been better with him in the team than they have without. But we've got reasonable cover at centre back so from a playing perspective I think it's less of an issue. From a leadership perspective, the senior players have to fill that void."
De Jong admitted the timing of Nelsen's decision had come as a shock but he had no complaints about not being kept in the loop.
"It has come around a bit premature but I don't think there's anything untoward in that, he maybe just wanted to get things sorted for himself."
It opens the door for Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante, an Australian defender who qualifies to play for New Zealand in March, subject to Fifa approval.
"Obviously that would be a plus for us," de Jong said.
- © Fairfax NZ News