A fresh-faced All Whites soccer team leave Auckland on Tuesday on a smash-and-grab mission against Fiji in Lautoka on Wednesday night.
An entirely domestic-based squad featuring six uncapped players will contest the dead World Cup qualifying tie. New Zealand have already won through to the last stage of qualifying — a home-and-away tie against as yet unknown Asian opposition next November.
The All Whites are also assured of a place at the Fifa Confederations Cup next June.
Despite the “dead rubber” status of the match, coach Ricki Herbert said there was still plenty to play for, not least the chance for fringe players to push for a spot in next year’s plans.
“The preparation isn’t ideal but with the carrot of a Confederations Cup dangling in front the players, the lads who have performed at under-20 and under-23 have the chance to show they’re ready to make the step up,” he said.
Five wins from as many World Cup qualifiers pushed the All Whites’ world ranking 54 in October, although they are currently on 60.
With one of the youngest All Whites squads ever, Herbert is set to name at least two debutants in his starting 11. He will also announce a new caretaker captain, with Ryan Nelsen not called back to the domestically sourced squad and Tim Brown suspended.
Fiji’s provisional squad of 23 contains four players familiar to New Zealand fans with Osea Vakatalesau, Peni Finau (both ex-Manawatu), Roy Krishna (Waitakere United), and Salesh Kumar (Auckland City), all current or former NZFC players.
Also in the squad is goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau, who was denied a New Zealand entry visa in October last year because of a relation’s military connections, prompting Fifa to step in at the 11th hour to postpone and move the fixture.