All Whites need to overcome brutal schedule ahead of Lithuania clash

Author
Michael Burgess, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Nov 2019, 1:44PM
Republic of Ireland vs New Zealand. New Zealand players argue with the referee after conceding a second goal.
Republic of Ireland vs New Zealand. New Zealand players argue with the referee after conceding a second goal.

All Whites need to overcome brutal schedule ahead of Lithuania clash

Author
Michael Burgess, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Nov 2019, 1:44PM

The All Whites face a race against time to prepare for the game against Lithuania, with one of the most compressed timeframes in recent memory.

They will have less than 48 hours on the ground in the Baltic state, and time for only one training session before facing their second match in the space of three days

The team also had to undertake a lengthy journey, across two time zones.

From Dublin, one of the most westernmost cities in Europe, they traversed much of the continent.

Vilnius is deep within the old Soviet Union, further east than Warsaw, Budapest and Belgrade.

It's almost on the same latitude as Istanbul and is just across the border from Belarus.

For that reason coach Danny Hay will use an entirely new team on Sunday afternoon (Monday morning NZT).

It's likely no one who started the match in Dublin will be on from the beginning in Vilnius, and many more of the youngsters will be involved

Winston Reid (West Ham), Chris Wood (Burnley) and Ryan Thomas (PSV Eindhoven) have been given leave to return to their respective teams, which was always the plan, while others who were involved against Ireland will be used sparingly.

"It is about ensuring that every single player on this trip gets a really good opportunity and can walk away knowing that we've had a good look at their character, their mentality, how invested they are in the direction we're taking the team, and their ability to play the way I want them to play," said Hay.

"While it's going to be tough losing [arguably] our three best players it just gives an opportunity to other players. There will come a time when we need to win games, but now's not that time, this is about developing a team and developing our style of play."

The draining schedule was another example of the realities of international football in compressed Fifa windows.

The All Whites have had worst situations in the past – playing Mexico in Denver then Australia in Adelaide in 2011 is probably the all time worst – but this was a tough one.

The team didn't return to their Dublin hotel until close to midnight local time after the match, before recovery, food, packing and snatching some sleep.

They had to be at the airport the next morning by 9:30am, for the three hour flight to Stockholm.

After transiting through the Swedish capital, they boarded another plane for Vilnius, arriving at around 8pm local time, before an express trip to the hotel, a rushed dinner and some sleep.

They have training and recovery on Saturday, before the game scheduled for 4pm Sunday (local time).

Lithunia lost 6-0 to Portugal on Thursday, which is no disgrace, given the calibre of the European champions.

But the Baltic team have been on a dreadful run, having lost 13 of the last 15 games, with two draws.

Their last victory came against Armenia (1-0) in March last year.

So they'll be vulnerable, presenting a rare chance for the All Whites to get a result in Europe, but they will also be desperate for a morale boost, and will see New Zealand as a welcome respite from facing seasoned European teams.

It will also be an unusual occasion. The national stadium here has a capacity of just 5,000 and artificial turf, perhaps the first time the All Whites have played on a non-grass surface since the Road to Spain in 1981.

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