The New Zealand U-23 football team head into tomorrows opening match of the OFC Mens Olympic Qualifiers at Taupos Owen Delany Park with a healthy amount of caution and respect for their Papua New Guinea opponents.
Emblen and his coaching staff, who include former All White Chris Zoricich, will get a chance to run their eye over other Group A members Tonga and potential playoff adversaries from Group B in tomorrows early games and on Sunday when the Oly Whites enjoy a bye.
However, they head into their opener with little knowledge of their opponents but expect Emblens counterpart, former Australia national team coach Frank Farina, to have his team primed for an upset.
Im sure Frank Farinas time with Papua New Guinea has made them more tactically astute and given them a better defensive shape given his experience in international football, Emblen said.
Itll be a tough game and while we know a couple of their players, the difficulty in this first fixture is we dont know a lot about them as a team.
Well do our homework over the first two match days and be ready to do the job when we play again on Tuesday. By Tomorrow night well have a better idea of the shape of the rest of the tournament.
That mystery, allied to Emblens confidence in the teams attacking options, has prompted an understandably watchful approach to the start of their campaign.
We worked more on our defensive shape than our attacking play and thats largely due to the caution needed for the first game. We need to be hard to beat, strong and compact as a group first and foremost because I do think weve got plenty of goals in the team going forward.
Emblen will likely plump for a back four of Ian Hogg, James Musa, Michael Eagar and Adam Thomas but still has decisions to make over late arrivals Jake Gleeson and Greg Draper. Goalkeeper Gleeson arrives today from Portland while in-form striker Draper has trained only once since arriving on Wednesday afternoon from Wales. Marco Rojas plays for Melbourne Victory on Friday night before flying out to join the squad for the remaining qualifiers.
There were tough choices all over the pitch and the strength of the squad is good, Emblen said. Everybody in the squad is pushing everyone else to the absolute max which is exactly what you want.
The back four are probably the segment of the team that works itself out earlier than the rest of the park but everybody is still being challenged. Players like Tim Myers, Tristan Pratley and Anthony Hobbs who wont start are pushing the others all the way.
Regardless of whether Emblen opts to use Draper, he still has a tough choice to make between his other forward options. Dakota Lucas and Sean Lovemore are proven performers at U-20 level, Team Wellingtons Louis Fenton has hit a rich vein of form in the second half of the ASB Premiership season while Ethan Galbraith and Daniel Saric allow a flexibility of approach.
Emblen says all players are now chomping at the bit to get underway.
We had our player meetings on Wednesday and they mood was pretty good. Theyre obviously excited but theres a lot of nervous tension and energy around and they just want the games to kick off so they can put in the performances we want and need to.
Kickoff is at 5pm preceded by Fiji against the Solomon Islands at noon and Vanuatu versus American Samoa at 2.30.
Tickets for matches can be purchased from the gate and are priced at $10 for adults and $5 for teenagers/over-65s, while ages 12 and under can enter for free.
OFC Mens Olympic Qualifiers 2012
16-24 March 2012
Owen Delany Park, Taupo, New Zealand
New Zealand v Papua New Guinea
Friday 16 March
New Zealand: (from) 1-Jake GLEESON (GK), 2-Tim MYERS, 3-Ian HOGG, 4-Michael EAGER, 5-Anthony HOBBS, 7-Cameron LINDSAY, 8-Ethan GALBRAITH, 9-Greg DRAPER, 10-Sean LOVEMORE, 11-Dakota LUCAS, 12-Louis FENTON, 13-Alex FENERIDIS, 14-James MUSA, 15-Jason HICKS, 16-Tristan PRATTLEY, 17-Adam MCGEORGE, 18-Adam THOMAS, 19-Daniel SARIC, 20-Michael O'KEEFFE (GK).
Unavailable: 6-Marco ROJAS.
Coach: Neil EMBLEN
Papua New Guinea: (from) 1-Joey KALA (GK), 2-Peter YANG, 4-Daniel JOE, 5-Max SENGUM, 6-Ronald SOHURU, 7-Eliud FUGRE, 8-Alwin KOMOLONG, 9-Nigel DABINGYABA, 10-Jamal SEETO, 11-Vanya MALAGIAN, 12-Wilson KILA, 13-Roland BALA, 14-Emmanuel SIMON, 15-Amon MEKI, 16-Kila POLENA, 17-Lap EMBEL, 18-Wira WAMA, 19-Lee WABING, 20-Roland WARISAN (GK), 21-Japheth TIAMPO.
Coach: Frank FARINA