New Zealand and Solomon Islands go into Thursday’s Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers with full squads available and the knowledge that the campaign ends for one — and the victor claims a one-match decider with Costa Rica for the last spot at November’s finals in Qatar.
New Zealand head coach Danny Hay has conceded he’s got two headaches ahead of the match, which starts at 6am (NZT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 7.
The first is that he has to settle on a starting 11 from a squad that’s almost entirely in-form and set to go.
The second ticklish issue concerns yellow cards.
Captain Winston Reid, defender Liberato Cacace and striker Alex Greive are all carrying a yellow card into the game. Picking up another card would make them ineligible for June’s decider against Costa Rica.
“Ultimately this is not the last stop for us.
“We want to be there for the intercontinental playoff in June, and we want to know that we can put our best XI on the pitch there and that’s certainly not taking our eye off the ball now.
“It is, without a shadow of a doubt, a real juggling act. You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you do in certain respects – you’re trying to hedge your bets a little bit.
“It’s not easy, but that said, we are very confident with the depth that we have in our squad, so whatever decisions we end up making, I know that the 11 players and then the substitutes that we have available are going to do the best job possible.“
Solomon Islands captain: ‘The fans would go crazy’
Solomon Islands skipper Micah Lea’alafa says his team is getting widespread support from people at home.
“We go through a lot of challenges and go through so many things in our country and this game means a lot for our country. It means a lot.”
“You know Solomons people, they love soccer. They love football.
“So when we play here there is a whole nation behind us. When we score goals it is like scoring World Cup goals. Imagine if we played back home and we scored? The fans would go crazy.”
Head coach Felipe Vega-Arango said:
“One thing that I completely agree with Micah is they have to enjoy it and the people in the Solomons they have to enjoy it,” says Vega-Arango.
“The Solomons sometimes has social problems and I know that football brings people together.”