Yellow card caution for the All Whites lineup
The All Whites will rest eight players in yellow card jeopardy for Tuesday's final World Cup qualifying game in Honiara - but three others will have to exercise extreme caution.
Captain Winston Reid, vice-captain Tommy Smith, Chris Killen, Michael McGlinchey, Shane Smeltz, Ivan Vicelich and Chris Wood - all sitting on one yellow card in the Oceania qualifying series - have been released along with cleanskin Marco Rojas, who returns to his Melbourne Victory club.
But Leo Bertos, who was booked in Friday night's 2-1 win over New Caledonia and Jeremy Brockie and Ian Hogg, who were both cautioned earlier in the tournament, are still in the squad to play the Solomon Islands.
The 11th squad member with a yellow card - fullback Tony Lochhead - is out with a fractured foot.
Any player receiving a second yellow card is automatically suspended for one game.
Now the All Whites have qualified for November's inter-continental playoffs against the fourth-ranked Concacaf confederation team, with cards from the Oceania campaign carrying through, coach Ricki Herbert does not want to put any key player at risk.
"Now the job is done we have an opportunity to replace our injured players and better handle the yellow card situation," he said yesterday. "We also have a responsibility to manage the workload of our players at this busy time of year with a view to the November playoff matches."
Four fresh recruits - past All Whites Aaron Clapham and Aaron Scott and the uncapped Luke Rowe and Cameron Lindsay - will fly out with the All Whites today to Brisbane, en route to Honiara.
Herbert clearly could not rest all the yellow card brigade - he is only taking 14 players, including two goalkeepers to the Solomons and Australian-born defender Andrew Durante, whose eligibility has still not been confirmed by world football's governing body Fifa.
Brockie and Bertos, who both started against New Caledonia, will have to be on their best behaviour on Tuesday. Bertos said after his booking in Dunedin that the threat of suspension was "a tricky one".
He said irrespective of what happened in Honiara, there was still a risk of being booked in the first playoffs game - which the All Whites will play away against an as-yet unknown North American, Central American or Caribbean nation - "and miss the second game". "We'll have to get on with it and deal with it. Whatever happens, happens." Herbert probably would have had to rest Smeltz anyway. The Perth Glory striker had 18 stitches in his face after being struck by a wayward upraised boot near the end of the New Caledonia game in an incident skipper Reid felt warranted a red card and a penalty.
While the decision to release the players was made primarily for pragmatic purposes, it may also earn New Zealand Football some brownie points from the All Whites' clubs. Reid (West Ham United), Wood (Leicester City) and Smith (Ipswich Town) can return to England a few days earlier to prepare for next weekend's premier league and championship action.
The All Whites' A-League contingent, particularly McGlin chey and Rojas, are likely to be involved in the playoffs.
The Honiara game gives Herbert an opportunity to give rare starts to midfielders Tim Payne and Dan Keat and Greek first division striker Kosta Barbarouses.
Wellington Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund, who missed the Dunedin game through suspension, will return against the Solomons. With no ironclad guarantee of Durante's availability, Sigmund should be a candidate to captain the All Whites for the second time after first donning the armband for a similar dead-rubber World Cup game in Fiji in 2008.
Bertos, Brockie and goalkeeper Mark Paston are the only starters from Dunedin still in the squad. Paston still needs the game-time in goal.
Ideally, Sigmund and Durante would be the central defenders, with Scott and Hogg as the starting fullbacks, Bertos, Keat, Clapham and Payne in midfield, and Brockie and Barbarouses up front.
If Durante still cannot be risked, Rowe could possibly play at centreback.
The All Whites squad for Honiara is: Mark Paston (GK), Jacob Spoonley (GK), Aaron Scott, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Ian Hogg, Luke Rowe, Leo Bertos, Dan Keat, Tim Payne, Aaron Clapham, Cameron Lindsay, Jeremy Brockie, Kosta Barbarouses. Injured: Glen Moss, Tony Lochhead. Released: Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Ivan Vicelich, Michael McGlinchey, Marco Rojas, Chris Wood, Chris Killen, Shane Smeltz. Kickoff in Honiara is 5pm (NZT) on Tuesday.
Sunday Star Times