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All Whites' sights on Brazil, via Honiara

Published: 7:13AM Friday June 01, 2012 Source: Fairfax

The All Whites are about to learn how to be frontrunners again.

New Zealand's 1-0 win over Honduras on Sunday was their first victory in two years and a dozen matches, dating back to the World Cup warmup win against Serbia in May 2010.

In between came either draws or losses against Slovenia, Slovakia, Italy, Paraguay (twice), Honduras, China, Mexico, Australia, Jamaica and El Salvador.

That winless run caused the All Whites' world ranking to plummet to 130, although they are expected to return to the top 100 when the rankings are updated next week.

Tomorrow Ricki Herbert's side kick off their attempts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with their OFC Nations Cup opener against Fiji in the Solomon Islands.

Group games against Papua New Guinea and the hosts follow in a hectic schedule with the All Whites only needing to finish in the top two of Group B to advance to the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

With a full-strength squad assembled there is an expectation New Zealand will win the tournament with ease and book a spot at next year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

The All Whites have become used to defending against higher-ranked opposition over the last two years, but although heat will be a factor, they should enjoy a glut of possession for their deep pool of attacking talent - Shane Smeltz, Chris Killen, Marco Rojas, Rory Fallon, Jeremy Brockie, Kosta Barbarouses and Chris Wood - to convert into goals.

The injury-enforced absence of senior defenders Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid will mean more work for new skipper Tommy Smith, Ben Sigmund and Michael Boxall, while Michael McGlinchey can take a firm grip of central midfield.

West Ham defender Reid was ruled out late on Wednesday night with a groin injury.

Herbert has called up 21-year-old Waitakere United defender Tim Myers to replace Reid.

"It's disappointing to not have Winston joining us here," Herbert said. "He's a big part of our plans as we aim to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil.

"However, the last two games have shown that the players we do have available can get the first part of that job done here in the Solomon Islands. Tim is another promising young player from the ASB Premiership. He's part of the Olympic team and he'll do the shirt proud if called upon during this tournament."

Smith, who at 22 became the youngest player to captain the All Whites when he wore the armband against Honduras, has been picking the brains of his more senior team-mates.

"Hopefully I can take that on board and relish the opportunity given to me," he said.

"It's different to anything else I've experienced but it seems like a relatively nice place. The people seem really nice and friendly so I think it'll be a good experience for me personally and another country ticked off the list."

Fiji coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti told Honiara's Island Sun newspaper that the All Whites were obvious favourites but still beatable.

"New Zealand is far away by miles," he said. "They have all the experience and they have all their professional players. None of the island players have the standard they have.

"But it's only a 90-minute game and what matters is on match day. If our players and other island teams follow the right instruction then anything can happen."

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