Experienced New Zealand All Whites striker Shane Smeltz says the 2016 OFC Nations Cup champions are embracing their favourites tag within Oceania and are focused on delivering a dominant performance against Fiji this week.
New Zealand, who completed their second training in Wellington yesterday at David Farrington Park, are looking to secure their place in the final stage of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ when they head into the home-and-away fixtures on 25 and 28 March.
New Zealand secured four points in the fixtures last November against New Caledonia, and the same result would see the team through to the play-off against the winner of Group B later this year.
Thirty-five-year-old Smeltz, a member of the 2010 FIFA World Cup team, returns to the All Whites for the first time since 2015 and believes the side’s biggest challenge this week is getting their mind-set right.
“We’re clear favourites and I don’t think there’s anything to be too concerned about,” he said.
“If we’re relaxed that’s probably one of the biggest things that could hurt us but I’m sure if you’ve spoken to the gaffer that’s not going to happen. Everyone’s going to be on their toes from the minute they get into camp and make sure that we get the right result.”
Even as one of the veterans, Smeltz feels like a new player. He is looking forward to working with newcomers Jai and Dane Ingham and said the senior players in the group need to work hard on making them comfortable.
“There’s no doubt that when you come into the camp at a young age you’re certainly looking at the senior boys so of course you have to be someone that they can look up to and hopefully aspire to be and go further than we’ve ever done,” he said.
“As a group we’re all together and I’m looking forward to working with these boys.”
Smeltz’s focus has been on the games coming up against Fiji where he will come up against a familiar face in Phoenix forward Roy Krishna.
“I think we’re concentrating on Fiji as a whole but obviously we know Roy, we know his strengths and he’s certainly one of their key players so it’s a good thing that we’ve worked with him week in, week out a lot of us boys and we know him but I don’t think there will be any sort of mate ship out there once we cross that line.”
After two years away from the All Whites environment, Smeltz is happy to see the whole set up in terms of professionalism has improved markedly.
“The whole set up in terms of professionalism – we’ve raised the bar,” he said.
“We continue to strive to raise the bar constantly. We’re constantly trying to improve every day at training and hopefully that’s going to show in the performances as well.”
New Zealand are training in Wellington until 23 March and then fly to Fiji on Friday 24 March.
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football