Herbert needs to rethink All Whites' strategy

DANNY HAY
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2013

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OPINION: Wow, the new captain's reaction straight after Friday night's game against minnows New Caledonia said it all - "little bit lucky".

I'm not going to lie, there were elements of a Shakespearean tragi-comedy with Ricki Herbert running full tilt down the sideline to celebrate the winning goal over the world's 103rd best footballing nation, whose Football Federation CEO is also the team's captain.

Thankfully, the job got done and the All Whites as expected now play the fourth best CONCACAF nation in November to decide who goes to the World Cup next year.

The All Whites looked every bit a team that hadn't played together in months.

Without wanting to make excuses for them, it is difficult to get a sharp, co-ordinated performance when players are thrown together for a couple of days.

But allowing the win to gloss over some glaring failings will be like trying to put a plaster on a festering wound.

Herbert's default defensive formation of a back three needs to be seriously thought through prior to the playoff games. Granted, it has worked in the past, but only when Ryan Nelsen has been at the helm - which sadly, is never going to happen again.

New Caledonia performed as they did last June in the Nations Cup and caused the back three enough problems to surely send alarm bells ringing in Herbert's head. No doubt he'll be sweating on Andrew Durante's presence (once he's finally cleared to play for New Zealand), which will add some much-needed steel and guile.

I'm hopeful, but not sure if that's going to be enough to contain the significant attacking threats they will face in November.

The choice of personnel was the other big issue. Playing Chris Killen in a central midfield role was bizarre, especially given two specialist central midfielders sitting on the bench. It has been tried once before, in the almighty fail that was the Nations Cup last year. Killen himself should not have the finger pointed in his direction as the poor guy has played his entire career as a striker.

There were other examples - Jeremy Brockie being played as a wing-back after he's been in outstanding and prolific form as an out-and-out striker this season. It smacked of trying to "fit" players into the starting 11, regardless of whether they were suited to the role being asked of them. Five strikers in the starting 11 simply didn't work.

Picking players on form, in positions that they know and regularly play, must surely be the way forward.

The All Whites shouldn't be struggling to gain 53 per cent possession when playing at home against an island nation.

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The one big positive, though, was that the All Whites grafted and ground out the victory, and created opportunities to put the game to bed earlier. They were on the end of some atrocious decisions from the officials, but the adage, a win is a win, is the best way to describe the performance.

I have no doubt that we have the players to mount a serious challenge for that World Cup berth, but there is plenty of tweaking that needs to occur before then.

Post-match Tommy Smith uttered the words, "they played better than us". If that occurs come November then in all likelihood the All Whites won't be playing in Brazil next year.

Danny Hay is a former All White

- © Fairfax NZ News

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