Danny Hay: Horror start with a happy ending

DANNY HAY
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014

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OPINION: Since the final whistle blew on Wednesday night's 4-2 defeat to Japan, cheap shots have flown as quickly at the All Whites as the goals did in the first 17 minutes of the match.

The game as a contest was effectively over after a crushing start that saw our young and inexperienced side down 4-0.

As an ex-captain of our national team and someone who is incredibly passionate about ensuring credibility and success, I saw far more positives than negatives from last week in Tokyo.

The following aren't excuses, but simply, facts.

Interim coach Neil Emblen and his coaching staff were missing their best players, Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Marco Rojas.

While attacking midfielder Rojas was missed, the absence of Reid and Smith at the back was even more damaging. The defensive pair glue everything together in front of Glen Moss and ensure there is a platform from which to build. Would the opening passage of the game have been so resoundingly one-sided had they been present? I think not.

The next consideration is that Emblen was only given days to galvanise his squad before taking an extremely capable nation on home soil. It is unfair to expect a fully cohesive and coordinated approach when a group of players are brought together for the first time, days from a difficult assignment.

While this result may get muddled in the mind of the public with the last outing, the Mexico debacle, it's important to remember Emblen had two days to prepare when his predecessor had eight years.

The third, and possibly most pertinent fact, is that Emblen was courageous enough to pick and start an extremely young and inexperienced side.

While old hands like Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon, Ben Sigmund and Jeremy Brockie sat on the bench, a pair of 19-year-olds made debuts. Ryan Thomas and Tyler Boyd showed more than enough to confirm that the future is extremely bright for the game in New Zealand - and seeing new names as opposed to the same ones being trotted out is what fans have been demanding for some time now.

Never before has there been such a plethora of attacking talent within our ranks. We've had gifted individuals, such as Wynton Rufer and Michael McGarry, but they've often been at their peak in different eras. At present, the two debutants can be combined with Chris Wood, who scored two sensational goals to restore respectability to the scoreboard, Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and Brockie (who is still only 26).

Add those individuals to Tim Payne, who was outstanding in midfield against the Blue Samurai, Storm Roux and Bill Tuiloma and it's obvious to see why I'm taking a positive outlook with all those mentioned having the potential to be around for at least another two World Cup cycles.

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In Tokyo, Thomas in particular displayed the poise, pace and skill to confirm that it is not by accident he is contracted to Dutch Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle. Like the majority of his counterparts in the All Whites, he didn't get overawed or fazed by what had occurred in the opening minutes.

More than the quality and fleet of foot that was shown at times, it was the character displayed to fight back in the face of adversity that impressed the most.

The young generation often get accused of wanting and getting things too easily. This group of young footballers bucked the trend.

Instead of rolling over and giving way to an embarrassing scoreline, they rolled up their sleeves and fought their way back into the game. It was impressive, and reassuring.

Danny Hay is a former All Whites captain.

- Sunday Star Times

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