All Whites coach Anthony Hudson has named his strongest squad in his time in charge of the national team for their next stage of FIFA World Cup qualifying.
The OFC Nations Cup champions welcome back captain Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Shane Smeltz for the OFC Stage Three Qualifiers against Fiji home and away later this month.
It is the first time that 2010 FIFA World Cup heroes Reid, Smith, Smeltz and the exciting next generation of All Whites like Ryan Thomas, Marco Rojas and Deklan Wynne have been named in the same squad as the team looks to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“It is the best squad we have had since I have been here,” said Hudson. “We have got quality all around the pitch, we have depth and competition for places, and the best thing about this squad is we have a good blend of experience and youth. There is energy, quality and hunger in this squad so I’m very pleased.”
Listen to audio from an interview with All Whites coach Anthony Hudson on his squad for the OFC Stage Three Qualifiers against Fiji
There are also two newcomers in winger Jai Ingham (Melbourne Victory FC) and defender Dane Ingham (Brisbane Roar FC). They are the first brothers to be named in an All Whites squad since Neil and Kenny Harlock in 1997. Australian-born Jai (23) and Dane (17) qualify for New Zealand through their New Zealand-born mother. Hudson said they have been watching them for some time.
“Jai has been progressing with his club and his performances have been very good. In recent time he is getting more and more time on the pitch and his performances have been very strong. He is a dynamic player, a very attacking player and he is someone who suits how we want to play.
“Recently when Dane made his debut for the Roar, for me 20 – 30 minutes into the game and I was sold. I had seen enough. He is a really good player. I have said all along that I wouldn’t be adding unless they add to the squad and these two players do that. I have seen enough to know that they can come in and improve what we are doing.”
— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) March 5, 2017
At the other end of the age and experience scale, he is pleased to welcome back 35-year-old Smeltz. The veteran of 51 internationals for New Zealand with 24 goals, makes his second squad under Hudson as circumstance and bad luck have limited his chances.
Shane came with us to Myanmar and what I saw there was a guy who is a top pro and was great around the camp. I really enjoyed working with him and his performances of late have been great. You would not think that he is the age that he is judging by the way he is playing.”
Also in good form is Chris Wood. Hudson is looking forward to seeing his striker continue his goal-scoring run which he is on for Leeds United in the Championship for the All Whites. The 25-year-old, who scored a double against Birmingham City last week, has 25 goals this season in all competitions, including 22 in the league.
“I am so pleased for Woodsy. It is not by chance it comes down to his mentality and how hard he works. He is such an asset to the national team. I think Woodsy, among a few others in this squad, can be superstars on the international stage this year because they now have earned the platform to do that.”
Hudson is excited to build on a successful 2016 where they won the OFC Nations Cup, competed well against world-class opposition on a tour of the USA in October and also claimed four points from the home and away legs against New Caledonia in the OFC Stage Three Qualifiers.
“We know Fiji are not going to be easy. We have played many times against the Island teams and been consistent, and now it is time to build on our last tour. We want to come away from this window and be heading straight into the final stages of the qualifiers. We are focused on nothing else.”
The All Whites will assemble in Wellington for a training camp on 19 March before travelling to Fiji on 24 March.