New Zealand and Solomon Islands this week are gearing up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers – OFC Stage 3 Finals.
The first leg will kick off this Friday night at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand with New Zealand hot favourites to do the business on home soil before the return leg in Honiara on 5 September, Oceania Football Confederation reports.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson has a wealth of experience at his disposal which he has needed after losing several high profile players to injury as well as having the debate around fitness levels rearing its head.
Despite some of those issues, Hudson remains confident that the squad has the depth to perform to the standard he expects.
“This has been eating away at me for three years. I’ve wanted to make these decisions two years ago, but we’ve never had the squad. Now we have the squad,” he said of being able to make key line-up choices based on the fitness of players.
In World Cup Qualifying past the All Whites have a superior track record over their opponents, winning 6-1 and 2-0 during Stage 3 of the previous qualifying campaign, but New Zealand aren’t giving too much weight to historical results.
“We want to perform really strongly on Friday night, and we want to go there and perform strongly again,” Durante said.
Having watched the progress of the All Whites since they beat his side 1-0 during the OFC Nations Cup 2016, captain Henry Fa’arodo is looking forward to another opportunity to take on the region’s ‘team to beat’. As one of the most capped players for Solomon Islands and someone who has experienced most levels of the game in the region, Fa’arodo is confident his side has the ability to do something special.
“Of course we know New Zealand are the favourites and the records show that,” the veteran midfielder said.
“But we have been working hard, we have a new coach Felipe [Vega-Arango Alonso] and we want to do our best and show our country what we are capable of.”
Vega-Arango Alonso is also keen for his side to put their best foot forward.
“They understand the game they are going to have to play,” he said.
“They understand that they play a professional team, they understand that it’s going to be tough.
“They also understand that this is an opportunity to show themselves to other coaches, clubs, and organisations – to show their level of football.”
He also knows that there are great differences between his side and their opponent New Zealand but is hopeful that the work his side has put in will help them match their rival.
“They know who they are playing so the comfort level is none. You can’t be comfortable when you are playing a professional team who haven’t lost a game in the region in quite a while.”
Vega-Arango Alonso will likely be without Auckland City FC attacker Micah Lea’alafa for the match, but he thinks that will create a nice rivalry within the team.