Coach Ricki Herbert has signalled a go-for-goals intent for tonight's vital World Cup qualifying clash with New Caledonia in Dunedin by naming the most attack-oriented lineup of his All Whites coaching career.
Herbert has selected Chris Killen - a striker throughout his career in England, Scotland and China - as the holding midfielder in a 3-4-3 formation which features six players who have played in forward roles for their professional clubs this season.
The All Whites need three points in Dunedin tonight to win the Oceania qualifying group and cement a place in November's inter-continental playoffs series against the fourth ranked side in the Concacaf (North America, Caribbean and Central America) confederation.
Herbert has been calling it a "massive game" all week. He clearly does not want to have to go to Honiara - scene of the All Whites' ignominious Oceania Nations Cup semifinal exit last June - on Tuesday still needing to clinch the Oceania group.
Scoring goals is the key and Herbert is taking no chances, stacking his lineup with Shane Smeltz - who nets almost one goal every two games at international level - Chris Wood, who has scored 20 times in English football's second tier this season, and two of the A-League's leading scorers, Jeremy Brockie and Marco Rojas.
Midfield playmaker Michael McGlinchey has been netting regularly in the A-League too and scored twice against Tahiti in Christchurch last October, and Killen, who has 14 All Whites goals, is playing as a lone striker for his Chinese Super League club, Chongqing FC.
"It's in our best interest to make sure we've got most of our best attacking players on the pitch as best we can," Herbert said before Winston Reid's first captain's run match-eve practice at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Brockie, who has scored 15 goals as a striker for the Wellington Phoenix this term, will play in the left wingback role with Leo Bertos at right wingback, his regular All Whites position since the 2009 World Cup playoffs against Bahrain.
Killen played in the All Whites midfield for the first time with mixed success at the Nations Cup in Honiara last year. He said yesterday "anywhere I play, I'll be happy". Wood will lead the All Whites line, with Smeltz and Rojas playing off him.
Such is the All Whites' attacking depth, Kosta Barbarouses - who plays in the Greek first division on loan at Panathinaikos - can only make the bench.
Veteran Mark Paston will play in goal after Phoenix clubmate Glen Moss was ruled out of the New Caledonia and Solomon Islands games after a knee injury at training in Dunedin on Wednesday. Herbert said Moss had gone to Auckland for scans and would be replaced by Auckland City keeper Jacob Spoonley, whose sole cap came against Fiji in 2010. "It's a strange one, really," Herbert said of Moss' injury.
"It seemed such a minor thing, just the way he struck the ball.
"There were no players around him, it's quite a freak accident; we didn't think it was quite so bad."
Moss had been expected to play tonight after supplanting Paston at the Phoenix. But Paston - who kept two clean sheets and saved a penalty in the playoff series with Bahrain and was one of the top keepers at the 2010 World Cup finals - is determined to make the most of his opportunity.
The All Whites have plenty of respect for New Caledonia, who tipped them over 2-0 in the Nations Cup semifinal in steamy Honiara.
The ledger was squared when Smeltz and Wood struck in a 2-0 victory in Noumea last year in the more important World Cup qualifier. But the All Whites expect New Caledonia, who are second in the qualifying group, to have a crack in Dunedin. They could draw level on points with the All Whites if they win. "They are a side that probably want to pass the ball more than a lot of the other island sides have against us," Herbert said. "New Cale" had not been an overly physical team in the past.
"But there's a lot riding on this and we certainly won't be second to the ball, that's for sure."
New Caledonia also trained at the roofed stadium last night under coach Alain Moizan, a former French international midfielder.
They are without striker Jacques Haeko, the Golden Boot top scorer at last year's Nations Cup tournament.
But their squad includes two talented attackers based with French clubs - Georges Gope-Fenepej, who plays in French Ligue One with Troyes, and attacking midfielder Cesar Lolohea. Gope-Fenepej scored in the Nations Cup upset win over the All Whites and has netted six times in World Cup qualifiers, including a hat-trick in a 6-2 thrashing of the Solomon Islands.
All Whites: Mark Paston (gk), Winston Reid (c), Tommy Smith, Leo Bertos, Michael McGlinchey, Shane Smeltz, Chris Killen, Marco Rojas, Ivan Vicelich, Jeremy Brockie, Chris Wood. Substitutes (from): Jacob Spoonley (gk), Dan Keat, Ian Hogg, Kosta Barbarouses, Tim Payne.
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