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Kiwis Abroad: All Whites aim to impress ahead of playoff

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

With the All Whites’ intercontinental playoff against Peru for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup now just around the corner, those All Whites in action for their clubs are doing all they can to impress and earn a place in the squad for the all-important pair of home-and-away clashes next month.

Coach Anthony Hudson is currently mulling over his squad selection and will hope to have a clean bill of health to pick from after watching Chris Wood go off early in Burnley’s defeat to Manchester City while Winston Reid picked up a head knock late on as West Ham United were upset by Brighton and Hove Albion. Wood felt some tightness in his hamstring at the Etihad Stadium and received treatment before being withdrawn as a precaution in the 20th minute. The striker has made a big impact for the Clarets since his arrival in August, playing a key role as Burnley have unexpectedly climbed to eighth in the English Premier League table. His new manager Sean Dyche is delighted with his progress saying: "He’s scoring goals and it’s a great habit for a striker. His all-round game is improving, he works ever so hard and is willing to move short, long - all the things you want from a centre forward." Wood has already found the net three times and Burnley clearly missed his goalscoring threat against City, drawing a blank against the league leaders to lose 3-0. It was also a disappointing day for Reid, whose West Ham side likewise suffered a 3-0 loss as Brighton heaped further pressure on manager Slaven Bilic. The All Whites captain had a nasty head clash with Izzy Brown in the 89th minute but was able to see out the game and is likely to be available for the fourth round of the EFL Cup against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night.

In the second-tier Championship, Tommy Smith is looking to work his way back to full fitness in time to be involved against Peru but is yet to return to the Ipswich Town first team. There has been a strong Kiwi connection in the club’s U-23 line-up recently though with Smith appearing alongside fellow All White Monty Patterson on a couple of occasions. Patterson continues to catch the eye at that level and made a significant contribution as his side defeated QPR 2-1 at Loftus Road. The young Kiwi confidently slotted home a through ball to give Ipswich the lead at the break before a wonder goal from Australian Ben Folami - who found the net from inside his own half - earned the win. In League Two, former All White Steven Old has solidified his place in the heart of the Morecambe defence and took full part in a clean-sheet performance as the Shrimps posted a scoreless draw against Grimsby Town. He will need to be at his stoic best over the coming months as Morecambe are currently third from bottom and have a fight on their hands to stay in the Football League. One side looking to break into the upper echelons of the English game is Salford City, for whom Max Crocombe helped to a 3-2 win over York City in the first game since the club’s Moor Lane home was rechristened as The Peninsula Stadium. The Kiwi goalkeeper had a busy afternoon between the sticks and made several good saves as Salford strengthened their hold on second place in the National League North. Crocombe rubbed shoulders with footballing royalty when the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson officially opened the new stadium, giving an inspirational speech that went viral on social media.

In the female game in England, the FA Women’s Super League has taken a short hiatus due to the international window but, prior to the break, Olivia Chance earned a starting berth for Everton and made good use of it by helping the Toffees to a convincing 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers in the Continental Cup. Playing in central midfield, the Football Fern put in a strong performance and nearly got on the scoresheet when an attempted clearance broke to her shortly after half-time but she drove her effort over the bar. Her range of passing was also on display and impressed Wales international Angharad James, who provided expert analysis on the club’s social media platforms. "Liv is growing into that more withdrawn midfield role," James said. "She’s usually a 10 but her vision means she can influence games from deep." Anna Green’s Reading were also in action before the international break but the Ferns fullback was restricted to a watching brief as an unused substitute in a 2-2 draw with Birmingham City. Across the Atlantic, only two Football Ferns were in action and both avoided defeat. Daisy Cleverley played for 35 minutes of Berkley University’s 3-0 win over the University of Oregon while Martine Puketapu took part for over 70 minutes of Colorado University’s scoreless stalemate with the University of Arizona. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) had earlier wrapped up in heart-breaking fashion for former Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg, whose North Carolina Courage were narrowly beaten 1-0 by the Portland Thorns in the final. There was however good news for Katie Bowen, who has been offered a new contract by FC Kansas City.

In the men’s game in America, two Kiwi custodians came up each other in Major Soccer League (MLS) action but only one took the field as Stefan Marinovic started for the Vancouver Whitecaps while Jake Gleeson was an unused substitute for the Portland Timbers. The inclusion of Marinovic raised eyebrows in some quarters with the All Whites number one getting the nod ahead of fans’ favourite David Ousted, who has been Vancouver’s preferred choice in goal for the past four seasons. But he couldn’t celebrate his selection with a clean sheet as the Timbers notched a 2-1 win. Despite the loss, the Whitecaps have finished the regular season in third place in the Western Conference and have qualified for the playoffs. Marinovic is set to come up against another side with an All White on the books as Vancouver will meet Kip Colvey’s San Jose Earthquakes, who earned their playoff berth with a 3-2 win over Minnesota United, for whom fellow New Zealander Michael Boxall is a mainstay of the defence. Colvey was not involved but Boxall played the full 90 minutes yet again for Minnesota, who finish ninth in the 11-team Western Conference. The campaign is now also over for the Kiwi contingent in the Vancouver Whitecaps second string, who ended the United Soccer League (USL) on a low note with a thrilling 4-3 loss against Orange County. Francis de Vries and Myer Bevan both started the match and the latter struck the opening goal on the quarter-hour mark. After a flowing ten-pass sequence by the Whitecaps, an inch-perfect cross was swung in to Bevan from the left and he made no mistake with a clinical header back across goal and inside the near post.

In Europe, PEC Zwolle’s fairytale start to the season shows no signs of coming to an end and Ryan Thomas continues to be a major part of the unexpected success. Zwolle picked up a 2-0 win over NAC Breda on the road and Thomas kept his ever-present record intact by again playing the whole match - he has now appeared in every minute of his side’s league season. The only blot on his copybook was a first yellow card of the campaign, which was picked up early in the second half. Zwolle are now fourth in the Dutch Eredivisie, just one point off second spot. Elsewhere in the Netherlands, Marco Rojas has forced his way into the first-team picture at SC Heerenveen after an injury-interrupted beginning to his time at the club. Rojas appeared in the starting line-up for the third consecutive match but did not have anything to celebrate from a team point of view as Heerenveen were outclassed 4-0 by Vitesse Arnhem at home. Having started the season well, Heerenveen have now lost their last three matches and dropped to seventh on the ladder.

The outlook is much brighter for Jeremy Brockie’s SuperSport United, who now have a final to look forward to after edging out Club Africain in the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup. The South Africans travelled to Tunisia needing to get a positive result after drawing the home leg but cancelled out the away-goal deficit within 15 minutes before Brockie - the top scorer in the competition - made it 2-0 on the night early in the second half. The former Wellington Phoenix striker was played into the box by a lovely defence-splitting pass and directed a low finish across his body and into the far corner for his 10th goal of the campaign. Brockie was withdrawn on the hour with the score at 3-1 and SuperSport then closed out the match to book a meeting in the final with TP Mazembe from Congo. The 49-cap All White is now within sight of a significant personal milestone as he is just four strikes away from SuperSport’s all-time goalscoring record of 57. In Indonesia, Borneo pulled off a pleasing 4-0 win over Mitra Kukar but it was a game to forget for Shane Smeltz, who came on with just over 20 minutes remaining but picked up a pair of late bookings to be dismissed in stoppage time.

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