All Whites to rely on new-look defence
The new-look New Zealand back three including youngsters Tommy Smith and Winston Reid looks set to remain intact for the World Cup after coach Ricki Herbert hinted there would be few changes from the team which beat Serbia 1-0 in a warm-up on Saturday.
Smith, 20, and Reid, 21, have just five international caps between them but they appear to have displaced experienced campaigners Ivan Vicelich and Ben Sigmund, the players who helped New Zealand qualify for the tournament, from the positions alongside captain and automatic choice Ryan Nelsen.
Both players started as the All Whites secured the surprising result against a highly-rated Serbia outfit. Smith, an England youth international, only recently pledged his allegiance to New Zealand and made his debut against Mexico in March while Reid won his first cap just last week against Australia after breaking through with his Danish club FC Midtjylland this season.
Herbert said his new back three, who have played just one match together, would be given more time to gel in Friday's warm-up against Slovenia ahead of their first Group F encounter against Slovakia in Rustenburg on June 15.
Herbert said: "They've played one game together and heading into Slovakia, if we think that's going to be the back three, then they will need more time. They'll be very strongly considered to play against Slovenia. We've done a lot of work with them this week, as we have with all the defenders. Those two have continued to grow and I couldn't be happier with them.''
After the full-strength hit-out against Slovenia, New Zealand will meet Chile in South Africa where Herbert will give his fringe squad members some game time. Herbert said his first choice team would start against Slovenia but that he would start making substitutes as early as the 20th minute.
"If everybody's all okay and we're comfortable with our position then we'll probably not be too dissimilar than we were against Serbia,'' he said. "What I will probably consider is players not being on the pitch for so long. The team named to play Slovenia may be on the pitch for 20 to 30 minutes only.''
Herbert has no major injury concerns heading into Friday's friendly just across the border from the team's training base in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria.
Striker Chris Killen, who missed the shock 1-0 win over Serbia to get married, has a tight hamstring but is likely to be available and could come into the front line in place of Chris Wood. Michael McGlinchey, who was lined up to replace the injured Tim Brown in the midfield until he suffered a tight hamstring, is now fit and may get a chance ahead of Jeremy Christie.