Confederations failure driving New Zealand's World Cup hopes
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand are keen to put an uninspiring Confederations Cup campaign behind them and prove they belong back in Russia for next year's World Cup, defender Andrew Durante said on Monday.
New Zealand, who lost three straight games at the Confederations Cup in June, face the Solomon Islands in the first match of the final Oceania qualifying round on Friday in Auckland. The second leg is in Honiara the following Tuesday.
The winner of the tie will go on to a playoff against the fifth-placed side from the South American region in November for a slot at the World Cup finals in Russia.
Argentina currently occupy the fifth spot in the South American group.
"We want to perform really strongly on Friday, and we want to go there (Honiara) and perform strongly again," Durante told reporters in Auckland.
"Not just think we've done the job on Friday and go there and sit back and soak up what pressure comes. It's not just the one game here, we've got to do it in both games.
"Then if we're in good physical condition, I think we can push whoever it is in November."
Coach Anthony Hudson had predicted his side could cause a surprise at the Confederations Cup but saw them beaten 2-0 by hosts Russia, 2-1 by Mexico and then thumped 4-0 by European champions Portugal.
Hudson said after the tournament that several players lacked fitness or match sharpness after failing to command regular first team opportunities at the clubs, and responded by dropping midfielders Clayton Lewis and Bill Tuiloma for the qualifiers.
"There was too many guys who weren't at the top of their game for a number of reasons," Durante said.
"We weren't at a level we wanted to be at. There have been repercussions from that. Everyone knows that if you come into camp, you're fit and ready to play."
The All Whites opened their training camp on Sunday without captain Winston Reid and fellow defender Tommy Smith due to injuries.
Attacking midfielder Marco Rojas and striker Shane Smeltz were late withdrawals on Sunday while stand-in captain Chris Wood, who scored a late equaliser on his Burnley debut in the English Premier League, is not expected to arrive at camp until Tuesday.
Despite the absentees, Durante said his side had enough depth to beat the Solomons and advance to the intercontinental playoff.
"No matter who's injured, or who's not available for this camp, we're going to be the stronger team," he said.
"We've got better players, player for player, and if we show up in the way that we need to, it should be an entertaining game for everyone that comes to watch."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)