All Whites striker Chris Wood is hoping to continue his red-hot form for Leeds United in the Championship this week when the national team takes on Fiji in FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The 25-year-old, who has scored 22 goals in the league so far this season as Leeds look to get back in the English Premiership, cannot wait to reunite with the All Whites squad as they look to take another step for qualifying for Russia in 2018.
Wood, who has scored 18 goals in his 48 internationals for New Zealand, has rarely missed an international window and said it will be great to have a strong squad together which includes captain Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Shane Smeltz.
“It’s nice to see that everybody’s there and everybody’s turned up,” said Wood. “It’s the first time they say we’ve had our strongest 23 there apart from a couple that are just unfortunate to miss out so it’s just one of those things and we’re looking good.”
Wood said they are expecting a tough challenge home and away against Fiji in the next 10 days. They face them away at Churchill Park in Lautoka on Saturday and then at home in Wellington on Tuesday 28 March.
“We know what they’re all about,” said Wood. “We’ve played them countless times both at their place and over here so it’s a physical match, it’s a tough match, it’s going to be very tough for everybody but as long as we do our work and do well on the pitch we’ll be fine.”
Leeds United are currently fourth in the Championship, 11 points behind leaders Newcastle United, and Wood said he is loving his football as he finds the back of the net with regularity.
“It’s just a bit of hard work and a good squad around me, good manager giving me a good load of confidence and finally I feel that I’ve got a team and a manager that backs me. Of course always love football when things are going like that. You always have your ups and downs but at the moment it’s looking good so it’s going well. We’ve got nine huge games to go and it’s only going to get tougher so it’s going to be a good fight.”
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson has been impressed by Wood’s form and expects him to lead by example this week.
“I am so pleased for Woodsy,” said Hudson of his form. “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 recently made a statement that he believes the team needs to drop the underdog tag to reach their potential on the world stage in 2017.
The coach said that mind-set is the single biggest factor in determining their chances of becoming the third All Whites team to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. Wood totally agrees.
“It 100 percent needs to be dropped and we need to be going into these games believing we’re good enough to be beating these teams,” he said. “It’s a thing that’s been holding us back for years and going forward it will do us a world of good.”
The highly rated forward believes that the All Whites – who will compete in the FIFA Confederations Cup in June – are capable of great things in 2017. But the focus is on this window and getting the four points they need to reach the final of the OFC Qualifiers.
“We’ve got a great campaign coming up in the summer but at the moment it’s all about focussing on these next two games and it’s nice to be back in front of our home fans.”
In other team news, Alex Armstrong has been named as an Assistant Coach, alongside other Assistant Coach Pete Taylor, for the upcoming All Whites tours to cover for New Zealand U-20 coach Darren Bazeley who is preparing for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Korea Republic in May.
All Whites v Fiji – OFC Stage Three Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
When: Saturday 25 March, kick off 1pm (2pm NZ time)
Where: Churchill Park, Lautoka, Fiji
When: Tuesday 28 March, kick off 7.35pm
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand