All Whites rely on youth for OFC Nations Cup

The All Whites will defend their OFC Nations Cup title with a squad dominated by youth as personal circumstances rule out some experienced players.

Fourteen players return from the last All Whites squad selected to face Egypt and Tunisia in March – but among those missing is captain Chris Wood who is getting married, midfielder Clayton Lewis who has been charged over an alleged A-League betting scandal and Sarpreet Singh who made a comeback during the last internationals.

With an eye on July’s Olympics, head coach Darren Bazeley has called up 10 under-23 players who are eligible for Paris 2024, including four – Wellington Phoenix trio Fin Conchie, Sam Sutton and Oskar van Hattum as well as Auckland FC’s Jesse Randall – selected for the first time.

Goalkeeper Alex Paulsen who has just signed with English Premier League side AFC Bournemouth could get his first senior New Zealand cap at the tournament set to take place in Fiji and Vanuatu from 15 June.

“The timing of this Nations Cup has made it quite difficult to select this final squad,” Bazeley said.

“Over the last month, I have spoken to all of the players around their personal situations, with some of our potential players still mid-season, some coming off the back of long European seasons, and some in various personal or contract situations.

“With the Olympics also being so close to the Nations Cup, with them being pretty much back-to-back tournaments, we have had to take that into consideration as well, managing player club and country commitments.”

Bazeley said having the under-23 players together ahead of the Olympics was a benefit for the global tournament.

“We now regularly monitor over 60 professional players who are all in the All Whites mix showing the strength in depth we are building, so for this Nations Cup squad we have delved into our depth and it is an opportunity for players to push themselves forward and stake a claim for regular selection.

“What we need is to be playing as many games as possible which is why this competition, with challenging international games in quick succession, is great for our development.”

The All Whites enter the OFC Nations Cup tournament as the defending champions after lifting the trophy in 2016 and the 2020 edition being cancelled due to Covid.

New Zealand has been drawn in Group A at the tournament alongside New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and co-hosts Vanuatu, and will play all group games at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The full 21-player squad is:

Kosta Barbarouses (52 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Tyler Bindon (6 caps) Reading FC, England

Liberato Cacace (22 caps) Empoli, Italy

Fin Conchie (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand*

Max Crocombe (6 caps) Burton Albion, England

Alex Greive (11 caps) Dundee United, Scotland

Cam Howieson (16 caps) Auckland FC / Auckland City FC, New Zealand

Eli Just (22 caps) AC Horsens, Denmark

Lukas Kelly-Heald (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Max Mata (10 caps) Auckland FC, New Zealand

Ben Old (4 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Alex Paulsen (0 caps) AFC Bournemouth, England

Tim Payne (34 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Jesse Randall (0 caps) Auckland FC / Wellington Olympic AFC, New Zealand*

Alex Rufer (9 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Oli Sail (9 caps) Perth Glory, Australia

Tommy Smith (52 caps) Auckland FC, New Zealand

Finn Surman (1 cap) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

Sam Sutton (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand*

Ben Waine (13 caps) Plymouth Argyle, England

Oskar van Hattum (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand*

*Debut call up

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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