New Zealand poised to advance in WCup qualifying
DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) -West Ham defender Winston Reid will captain New Zealand in its Oceania World Cup qualifying match against New Caledonia on Friday, ushering in a new era after the retirement of veteran Ryan Nelsen.
Reid will be playing only his 15th international in the match at Dunedin and will take the armband from Nelsen, the former Blackburn Rovers and Queen's Park Rangers defender who retired one match short of 50 New Zealand appearances. The 24-year-old Reid has recently captained West Ham in F.A. Cup and English Premier League matches and coach Ricki Herbert said he was confident Reid was ready for the responsibility.
Herbert said Reid's appointment as West Ham captain "speaks volumes of his character, especially when you look at his peers in similar roles within the Premier League.''
New Zealand has won its four previous matches in the third round of World Cup qualifying within the Oceania Confederation. A win Friday will likely ensure it progresses as Oceania's representative to the next stage of qualifying, a playoff with the fourth-place team from CONCACAF for a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
New Caledonia must win to keep alive its chances of wresting the Oceania qualifying spot from New Zealand. The New Caledonians beat New Zealand 2-0 in a semifinal upset at last year's Oceania Nations Cup, the second stage of regional qualifying, but New Zealand won 2-0 when the teams met in New Caledonia in the first of their current home and away games.
New Caledonia has won its three other matches in this round and is just behind New Zealand on the qualifying ladder.
"There are no easy games in international football - we've proved that in recent years and also had a timely reminder of it from New Caledonia at the OFC Nations Cup in Honiara last year,'' Herbert said.
New Caledonia captain Olivier Dokunengo said his team was determined to press New Zealand as hard as possible for the right to progress to the next qualifying stage.
"New Zealand is more experienced at playing high level matches than us and we have to be realistic,'' Dokunengo said. "But we are not going there to be the victims and will keep fighting until the end.''
Tahiti will play the Solomon Islands in Papeete in the other third-round match Friday. Neither team can top the group but Tahiti will aim to take advantage of the match conditioning before representing Oceania at this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
"We have to win this game because it is at home and we cannot finish the qualifiers without a win,'' Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta said.
"These last two games are part of our preparations for the Confederations Cup and it is important to bring some confidence into the team. We will be able to work on new tactics and organization.''