New Zealand Camp Focus – Kiwis performance overshadowed by Brown injury

An encouraging display by New Zealand in their 2-1 defeat to neighbours Australia has been overshadowed by an injury to a key player.

Midfielder Tim Brown is now a major doubt ahead of the World Cup after fracturing his shoulder in a collision with Vince Grella. The 29-year-old has required surgery and now faces a race against time to be fit for the Kiwi’s opening game against Slovakia in a fortnight. Brown had been earmarked for a big role in South Africa by Coach Ricki Herbert who will give him as much time as possible to recover before the tournament. As second in command to Ryan Nelsen in the role of vice-captain Brown’s absence would be sorely felt by the Kiwi’s off the field as much as on it.

With the possibility that Brown might not make it in mind – Herbert has called on one of his standby players omitted when the original 23 man squad was announced. Wellington midfielder Cole Peverley has joined up with the squad having narrowly missed out on selection recently. Should Brown not make it then Peverley is a like-for-like replacement. However, what the 21-year-old lacks that Brown has in abundance is senior experience. Peverley’s one previous outing for New Zealand was nearly two years ago although he was part of the training camp prior to Herbert deciding on his final squad.

It is unlikely that Peverley would start the tournament in the side having been drafted in as cover. Brown’s role is more likely to be handed to the man who replaced him against Australia – Michael McGlinchey. The 23-year-old is another to have recently swapped his allegiance to the country of his birth. The midfielder was a real prospect as a teenager with then Celtic manager Martin O’Neill signing him ahead of reported competition from Manchester United.

He struggled for a breakthrough at Celtic Park and moved closer to home with Central Coast Mariners last year but has since tasted SPL action in a loan spell at Motherwell in recent months. McGlinchey represented Scotland at youth level and has tournament experience when playing at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2007. Since deciding to play for New Zealand a year ago he has made a number of appearances and impressed in the play-off games against Bahrain. It will be hoped that his own lack of experience at senior international will be discounted by his creative ability in central midfield. Like others in the squad he will see this opportunity as a shop window and a chance to prove to Celtic that they were wrong to let him go.

New Zealand’s overall performance against Australia was encouraging and they were unfortunate not to hold out for a draw. Chris Killen – on whom much of the All Whites’ attacking threat relies – took his goal well and looked dangerous throughout the night.

The biggest concern for Ricki Herbert will have been the very physical nature of the clash so close the World Cup. While derby games tend to be fiery affairs, New Zealand take pride in being a robust and physical side and Australia tested their credentials in that department. A few players picked up knocks but none as serious as Brown.

Tricky winger Leo Bertos in particular seemed to be the focus of some hard challenges and was forced to depart early – later followed by defender Ivan Vicelich. Apart from the bruising nature of the encounter the only other disappointment for Herbert will have been his side’s inability to hold on to the draw late on. If they can correct this ahead of the tournament they could spring a surprise as Australia nearly discovered.

There were positives to take from the friendly aside from the All Whites overall display. The attendance of 55 000 in Melbourne was as big a crowd as most of the New Zealand squad will have played in front of before. That sort of atmosphere will stand them in good stead for the size of crowds they will experience when playing in South Africa. Young Winston Reid – the former Danish youth international – made his senior debut from the bench and proved to be very versatile which justified Herbert’s gamble on calling him up.

The Kiwis have now travelled to Austria to further their preparations with the intention of acclimatising to a higher altitude. While there they will take on Serbia and Slovenia before moving on to South Africa and one final friendly against Chile.

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