Two of the All Whites senior pros Chris Wood and Tommy Smith were in action today for the first time on the team’s tour of Ireland and there was a noticeable shift in intensity.
Wood, the Golden Boot winner with Leeds United this year in the England Championship, and Smith, a key man in the All Whites defence in the absence of skipper Winston Reid, are both players who naturally lead by example.
Kosta Barbarouses, who has made a return to the All Whites after missing the March international window with the World Cup qualifiers against Fiji, said the experience Wood and Smith offer is invaluable.
“They both bring a load of experience,” said Barbarouses, who has played 37 internationals for New Zealand. “Woodsy is coming off a great campaign where he just missed playoff contention [with Leeds United in the Championship] and he scored a load of goals.
“Tommy has been involved in the set up for a number of years now and I have known Tommy since he was 13 or 14 years old. They are both really great players and the more [players like that] we can have in the squad the better. They definitely add quality to the squad.”
Deklan Wynne, who was recently promoted to the first team of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS, echoed those comments and said the standards lifted a notch today.
“Everyone knows they are quality players so when they get here everyone goes up a gear,” said the 22-year-old South African-born Kiwi. “Most of all everyone is training hard because they want to get into the staring XI for Friday.”
Barbarouses is looking forward to the prospect of pairing up with Wood up front and adding to his three goals in internationals for New Zealand.
“Playing off a guy like Woodsy is great because even when the ball isn’t perfect in the air, or even along the ground, he does a great job of getting it under control. Running off him makes my job that little bit easier, having someone like that as a focal point.”
The Wellington Phoenix forward is feeling rejuvenated back in the All Whites. He has had some honest conversations with coach Anthony Hudson in the past few months. The Gaffer asked him to make some improvements in areas of his game and Barbarouses responded like a senior pro.
“I think he has seen that improvement from me in the last few months. My reaction has been good and I am at a good level now. I am coming back into the camp and really excited to be back here. I think I can help the team in these games coming up and in the tournament.”
Meanwhile, Wynne said the All Whites were expecting a direct approach from Michael O’Neill’s team in front of their rowdy home fans in the heart of Belfast on Friday night.
“I actually looked at their ranking yesterday and saw they were No 26 in the world, so they are a good side,” said Wynne. “They are very effective in the way that they play so we will look to counter that and implement our game plan as well.”
Barbarouses said the team was treating the fixture as a key stepping stone for their opening game in the FIFA Confederations Cup against Russia.
“They have a lot of quality players. Woodsy has played with a few of the guys as well so we’ll be asking him questions. The Gaffer has given us loads of video to watch as well. It is going to be very fast paced and direct and we are going to have to adapt to their counterattack and be set up and organised very quickly,” he said.
“We have pinpointed what we want to do in this game and what we need to get out of it to be ready for the first game in Russia. I am sure there will plenty of negative and positives from this game that we can take into Belarus and the tournament.”
All Whites fixtures pre-FIFA Confederations Cup
2 June v Northern Ireland in Belfast, Northern Ireland (3 June NZT)
6 June v Cabinteely FC in Dublin, Republic of Ireland (7 June NZT)
12 June v Belarus in Minsk, Belarus (13 June NZT)
Both of the internationals are live on SKY Sport
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw
17 June 6pm (3am 18 June NZT) v Russia, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
21 June 9pm (6am 22 June NZT) v Mexico Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
24 June 6pm (3am 25 June NZT) v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
All FCC matches live on SKY Sport