International Friendly Preview: Japan v New Zealand
By Football News
New Zealand will play their first match since missing out on qualification to Brazil 2014 and losing coach Ricki Herbert on Wednesday.
Japan will host New Zealand in Tokyo with the visitors to be led by caretaker coach Neil Emblen after Herbert stepped down following the Oceania side's 9-3 loss on aggregate in a World Cup play-off against Mexico in November.
That embarrassing defeat meant New Zealand missed out on back-to-back appearances at the World Cup finals, while it also brought to an end Herbert's over-eight-year tenure as head coach.
Emblen, who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Millwall and Crystal Palace in his native England, before finishing his playing career in New Zealand, has named a fairly inexperienced squad to take on Japan.
New Zealand are without Winston Reid (West Ham), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town) and Marco Rojas (Stuttgart), while Emblen has selected nine players who have played fewer than 10 internationals.
With central defenders Reid and Smith both unavailable, Emblen's defence looks particularly raw with Ben Sigmund (31 caps) the only experienced player at international level, although his club team-mate Andrew Durante (nine caps) - a naturalised New Zealander - has played over 193 games in the A-League.
Most of the experience in Emblen's squad is in the forward third with Shane Smeltz (50 caps), Jeremy Brockie (42) and Chris Wood (33) all available.
Japan also have a couple of key players unavailable with captain Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg) and defender Atsuto Uchida (Schalke) out of Alberto Zaccheroni's squad, although star midfielders Keisuke Honda (Milan) and Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) will be involved.
Zaccheroni expects a tough contest from New Zealand, who are ranked 39 spots below Japan by FIFA, as his team looks ahead to this year's World Cup.
"New Zealand are a physical team and will be good opponents," Zaccheroni said.
"I want to check on all the things we have been doing over the last three years.
"The last game for us (at home before the World Cup) is in May, so March will be very important."
Wednesday's match will be the third meeting between the two countries with Japan winning the last match at the 2003 Confederations Cup, while New Zealand won their maiden encounter in 1981.