March 14 2014 Latest news:
Monday, February 4, 2013
Form and qualification permitting, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in-form Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith could lead out New Zealand at next year’s World Cup, in Brazil.
The 22-year-old has represented the All Whites 21 times and played in the 2010 World Cup, as the minnows missed out on qualification to the second round by a point.
Smith, who headed two goals as Town hammered Middlesbrough 4-0 at the weekend, has already skippered his adopted country – the defender was born in England, but lived in New Zealand as a child – and could be a leading contender again, following the retirement of veteran centre-back, Ryan Nelsen.
Nelsen, who accrued 49 caps, retired as a player last month after a career which included eight years in the Premier League with the likes of QPR and Blackburn.
“It would be a great honour to be given the captaincy full time,” said Macclesfield-born Smith.
“First and foremost I have got to concentrate on my Ipswich career and hopefully we can get a few more results like the Middlesbrough one.”
The All Whites currently top the Oceania World Cup qualifying group, and require one win from their final two games to secure a play-off with the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF region, and a chance to reach their second successive finals.
New Zealand earned three points in the 2010 World Cup, including a shock 1-1 draw against Italy, and are in pole-position to make the Intercontinental play-off, where they will face one of Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, USA or Panama in a two-leg shoot-out.
“There is a window at the end of March and we need to win one of our last two games (against New Caledonia and the Soloman Islands) to qualify for the Intercontinental play-offs,” he added.
Smith has been known to fly to New Zealand and back to Suffolk in a week – juggling club and country commitments – but will be given more time to recover after the next round of games with the home fixture against Leeds, four days after New Zealand’s second game.
“I’m still young and I can handle it,” said Smith.
“It was affecting him (Nelsen) more and more as got older, and his body could not really handle it, which is understandable.”