All Whites coach faces selection puzzles
In-form Wellington Phoenix striker Jeremy Brockie and teenage midfielder Tim Payne are pushing for starts in the All Whites' World Cup qualifying series opener against New Caledonia, and Mark Paston is poised to grab the goalkeeper berth.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert will name his starting lineup later today for tomorrow night's tussle against the Oceania Nations Cup (ONC) runners-up in Noumea.
But Herbert told Fairfax yesterday he was likely to retain the 3-4-3 formation the All Whites adopted successfully for the 2010 World Cup campaign.
His back three picks itself, with English premier league stars Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid back after missing the ONC tournament in June, joining Ipswich Town's Tommy Smith, who led the All Whites in Honiara.
But Herbert has several selection posers, notably in goal, central midfield and up front where the All Whites are developing greater depth.
He said the choice of keeper would "always be a tough one" but Paston probably had his nose in front of his Wellington Phoenix teammate Glen Moss.
"Mark has been the incumbent since the World Cup [finals] and I thought he was excellent in America against Honduras and El Salvador and at the Nations Cup up until [he was injured] against Fiji.
"Glen has played a little bit more in the last month on the [Phoenix's] tour to India because Mark didn't travel because of the birth of his third child.
"It could be a toss of the coin but Mark has probably got a little bit of an edge."
Herbert is likely to retain Phoenix charges Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos in the left and right wing-back roles they performed at the World Cup finals in South Africa.
Michael McGlinchey is likely to be the midfield playmaker with United States-based Dan Keat and Payne, the 18-year-old Blackburn Rovers professional, and veteran Ivan Vicelich pressing for a place alongside him.
"Unfortunately we haven't seen much of Dan because of injury, but I thought Tim Payne did a very good job at the Olympic Games, albeit in a slightly deeper role than he's used to and we know Ivan's there if we need to play him. Ivan gives us that stability; he very rarely has a poor game."
Herbert is almost spoiled for choice in his attacking arsenal with UK-based strikers Chris Wood (West Bromwich Albion) and Rory Fallon (Aberdeen) joined by A-Leaguers Brockie, Shane Smeltz and Marco Rojas, China-domiciled Chris Killen and Greek first division player Kosta Barbarouses.
Wood and Smeltz should have the inside running to lead the line but Herbert said he had been "very impressed" with Brockie, who scored eight goals on the Phoenix's India tour.
"Jeremy's very confident and he scored some incredibly good goals when he was away [in India]."
Brockie has played for the All Whites on the flanks and deputised against Australia at right back last year. He has yet to score a senior international goal but Herbert now sees the Nelsonian playing further forward.
Herbert said the return of Nelsen and Reid would be a major boost to the squad.
"We miss them when they're not here, it's like the All Blacks when Dan Carter and Richie McCaw aren't playing."
Both defenders are fresh from EPL action - Reid scored in West Ham United's 3-0 win over Fulham and Nelsen led Queens Park Rangers' rearguard against champions Manchester City.
"Ryan got some time in the [League] Cup mid-week [against Walsall] and against City; he's buzzing," Herbert said.
"Winston has been great. He's cemented his place in the team, he scored at the weekend and his confidence is very high."
Herbert said West Ham "going down [last season] has given Winston a chance to step up".
Possible All Whites starting team: Mark Paston, Winston Reid, Ryan Nelsen (captain), Tommy Smith, Leo Bertos, Tim Payne, Michael McGlinchey, Tony Lochhead, Chris Wood, Shane Smeltz, Jeremy Brockie.
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