Opinion: Attacking riches for the All Whites
OPINION: The All Whites haven’t had as many attacking options for years so should Ricki Herbert go for broke in Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against New Caledonia in Dunedin?
Senior striker Shane Smeltz acknowledged yesterday that the All Whites have never had so much depth in his experience – all over the field, but particularly at his end of the pitch.
It would be a major surprise if Smeltz didn’t start against the New Caledonians. The Perth Glory forward has 23 goals from 48 matches – at a rate of close to a goal every two games. That’s good going at international level.
But Smeltz, 31, also knows he can’t take his place for granted. The All Whites’ attack hasn’t looked so good since Otago’s own Michael McGarry and Oceania player of the century Wynton Rufer were in tandem in the early to mid 1990s.
Chris Wood, 21, has been one of the top strikers in the English Championship second tier competition for Millwall (while on loan from premier league club West Bromwich Albion) and latterly at Leicester City, his new club.
Marco Rojas, 21, has been hailed as the best player in the A-League this season after a string of scintillating displays for Melbourne Victory.
Jeremy Brockie, 25, is the co-leader in the race for the Golden Boot, as the A-League’s top scorer. He’s netted 15 times – no mean feat while playing for the cellar dwelling Wellington Phoenix.
Then there’s Smeltz’s contemporary, Chris Killen, 31,who has 14 goals from 46 games and has played in top leagues in England, Scotland and now China.
Wellington’s Kosta Barbarouses, 23, hasn’t been a regular at top Greek club Panathinaikos but two years ago he was where Rojas is now –an A-League aristocrat.
Michael McGlinchey, 26, has been the best Kiwi in the A-League for the last few seasons. He’s capable of playing up top as a striker, on either flank or as a central midfield schemer.
So what should Herbert do on Friday at Forsyth Barr Stadium? If he sticks to the 3-4-3 formation he’s favoured since the last World Cup qualifying campaign in 2009, who should he play in the wingback roles.
Leo Bertos (on the right) and Tony Lochhead (left) filled those berths back then. Bertos did brilliantly against Bahrain in a totally foreign position for him. But neither he or Lochhead haven’t had the happiest of seasons at the Phoenix and it might be time for a new approach.
Rojas would be wasted in a wingback role. Why would you want a player of his talent expending energy tracking back?
But Brockie - despite his glut of goals for the Phoenix - has the defensive qualities required and the stamina to get up and down the line.
He is a better deliverer of the ball too than Bertos or Lochhead as evidenced by his pinpoint cross for Phoenix pal Stein Husyegems’ headed goal in the last A-League round.
Do the All Whites’ need a holding midfielder against New Caledonia. They only need three points to clinch the Oceania World Cup qualifying series and force a playoff with the fourth-ranked Concacaf nation.
How about Mark Paston or Glen Moss in goal with a back three of Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and either Ben Sigmund, Ivan Vicelich or new cap Andrew Durante?
Play Barbarouses wide on the right, McGlinchey and Rojas in central midfield and Brockie on the left flank with Wood and Smeltz up front. Or Smeltz at the top of the midfield formation with Rojas in the forward role.
It’s not disrespectful of New Caledonia. Just making the most of the All Whites’ rare riches.
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