Player power looms as the All Whites' only hope as the World Cup campaign teeters on the brink ahead of next month's qualifiers.
Poor preparation, injury, and lack of confidence in the coaching staff is threatening to derail the players' chances of reaching back-to-back tournaments.
New Zealand Football, who still have an interim chief executive following Grant McKavanagh's shock resignation in July, had hoped to replicate November's qualifiers by organising home and away internationals against Concacaf countries in this month's Fifa window.
But they have had to settle for a date with world No 85 Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain on October 15, following a week-long training camp in Los Angeles.
The All Whites will also play Mexican club Queretaro on October 9 and MLS club Chivas USA three days later.
The All Whites fly out on Monday and NZF finally confirmed its schedule last night.
While that will come as a relief, current and former internationals expressed serious concern about the situation yesterday.
There is a belief that a talented group of players is being undermined by a lack of leadership from the national body and a lack of direction from coach Ricki Herbert.
The All Whites were beaten 2-0 by the world No 84 United Arab Emirates in Saudi Arabia last month as Herbert fiddled with his formation and personnel.
The time for experimentation is over and it is understood senior All Whites are planning to form a leadership group to assist young captain Winston Reid in taking ownership of the team.
It is a situation similar to the 2009 and 2010 All Whites, where captain Ryan Nelsen took the reins with the help of Simon Elliott and Tim Brown.
The problem this time is that no-one in the current camp can match the presence and leadership of Nelsen, now coaching Toronto FC.
It is a longshot, given team politics and Toronto's own struggles, but Herbert and NZF should swallow their pride and send Nelsen an SOS.
Whether Toronto would release him is debatable but in theory Nelsen could assist in November after the club's season ends on October 27.
The crying shame is that Wellington's Westpac Stadium has already been sold out for the return leg on November 20 as fans cross their fingers for a repeat of the 2009 heroics against Bahrain.
Belief is dwindling that Herbert - who has coached the national team since 2005 - can conjure up a miracle and the increasingly frustrated players know they will have to instead try and write their own fairytale.
Injuries to several top strikers is making life even more difficult.
Chris Killen has had surgery on his Achilles, Shane Smeltz on his hip, while Chris Wood (hamstring) and Marco Rojas (foot) are also recovering from ailments.
NZF high performance director Fred de Jong said the camp in Los Angeles could be a preview to the All Whites' plans next month.
"There's still a lot of water to go under the bridge in terms of knowing who our opposition are and what unique logistical challenges they will present but basing the team in the US then flying in for that first leg is very much an option," de Jong said.
"It's similar to what the All Whites did in Dubai before the 2009 playoff against Bahrain so it's a scenario the group has some familiarity with. The difference is the two club games, which will give Ricki the freedom to try a few things in a training match situation then make decisions on the makeup of his side to face Trinidad and Tobago."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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