All Whites need to lift
THE All Whites face a huge step up if they are to bounce back from yesterday's loss to Mexico to seriously challenge the Socceroos in the second of their two international friendlies in Adelaide tonight.
Although there was a second half improvement from a rejigged New Zealand team at Denver, the damage had been done by then with the Mexicans, at times showing a Barcelona-like ability to retain possession with their slick-passing game, simply cruising before turning their attention to the upcoming Gold Cup tournament.
"It was a massive test," said All Whites coach Ricki Herbert.
"We were on the back foot for pretty much the whole of the match. We knew that would happen. If you came here even with your best team and fully fit you'd have a real handful," he said.
"I wanted to give those new guys a chance. A felt a bit sorry for Michael Boxall because wingback's not his role but we're so thin we needed to find somewhere to give him a taste of it. I think he's got a great future with us but it's probably in central defence and hopefully we can do that against Australia."
The All Whites will spend the next morning recovering before an evening flight to Adelaide, arriving around lunchtime tomorrow for their match against Australia. Herbert admitted it was a tough ask but said the hunger for players to push their way into his long term plans would be a large motivator.
"We'll regroup. There'll be chances again. People like Kosta will get another chance and Michael McGlinchey will play so again it's just getting the balance right and getting some players time on the pitch.
"You can come here and get well beaten - we were well beaten, and it could've been worse for us. Credit to the guys though. At halftime we were certainly staring down the barrel and things could have looked worse for us on the score sheet. They dug deep and some of the guys that came on gave us a little bit more and there are a few positions up for grabs. We're building a World Cup squad here and there's one or two that can push for that."
In the opening salvos against Mexico it was very much men against boys as the All Whites struggled to do anything but defend. The 30-plus difference in the respective world rankings was obvious as was the lack of match play against a Mexican team who had drawn 1-1 with Ecuador four days earlier.
Japan-based Michael Fitzgerald was quickly exposed in his defensive left side role. Sensing that, Mexico mounted many of their early forays at him, constantly profiting from the youngster's indecision.
On the other flank, while not under as much pressure, Boxall too found the fleet-footed Mexicans a handful and it was left to veteran defender Ivan Vicelich and, behind him, goalkeeper Glen Moss to bring some much-needed stability as the Central Americans threatened to run riot.
The defence was given little help from their midfield with Simon Elliott struggling early to adjust to the pace while captain Tim Brown was rarely sighted.
With few, make that less than few, opportunities on attack, it was little surprise key strikers Shane Smeltz and Chris Wood were reeled back to help out defensively. Adept at dropping off their markers into space, the Mexicans caused havoc.