Former NZ under 20s coach Chris Milicich is confident the All Whites can still win March’s Oceania World Cup qualifying tournament, even though they’ll be without a host of top line players.
Earlier this week, All Whites coach Danny Hay expressed his frustration at the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) after they scheduled the tournament to begin outside the FIFA international window, meaning superstars like Chris Wood and Sarpreet Singh won’t be available, as current rules state that clubs don’t have to release players for games that fall outside the set dates.
That means New Zealand would likely send a team full of domestic based players to Qatar for the qualifier. The winning nation from OFC will then face the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region, with the winner advancing to the World Cup.
“You want players that have experience playing against the Island nations. There is no time to experiment with players so you need guys who have been there, done that,” Milicich told Riccardo Ball on SENZ Extra Time.
While New Zealand would be down on troops, that play for clubs in the local National League like midfielder Cameron Howieson and defenders Justin Gulley and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi who have been around professional football clubs, and have played games for the All Whites.
There is also the prospect that Hay could call on some overseas based players like striker Matthew Garbett and goalkeeper Jamie Searle who predominantly play for the youth teams at Torino and Swansea respectively, but once again the clubs would need to be willing to release them.
Wellington Phoenix Academy Technical Director Paul Temple also thinks that overseas based players who don’t play in the big leagues like Max Mata in the US and Niko Kirwan in Italy could also be outside chances of featuring.
The more oversees players Hay could call on the better, as any New Zealand-based players won’t be match fit heading into the qualifying tournament with the National League being in the offseason.
Regardless, thinks it’s a good problem to have, as it shows the depth of football in New Zealand.
“If we’d had this conversation six years ago we wouldn’t of had it as most of our players were based in New Zealand,” Temple told SENZ Extra Time.
“It does give you an idea of how much football has grown here with lots of players playing in good environments overseas.”
But the bulk of the squad will likely be made up of domestic players and ones that both Milicich and Temple agree could feature include Zac Jones, Jack Henry-Sinclair and Adam Mitchell.