Football: New Zealand stress defence for Mexico play-off

New Zealand placed the emphasis firmly on defence in the team announced Tuesday for the first leg of their 2014 World Cup play-off against favourites Mexico at the Azteca Stadium.

Coach Ricki Herbert named Ipswich Town centre-back Tommy Smith to lead the Oceania champions in place of the injured Winston Reid, saying his had worn the captain's armband with distinction before.

"But it won't all fall on one person's shoulders; we expect to have 11 leaders out there together," Herbert said

Jeremy Christie's selection in midfield was the only major surprise as Herbert opted for his favoured 3-4-3 formation, which allows wingbacks Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead to fall back and help the defence.

Christie, 30, has not played professional football since undergoing a hip operation in 2011 but Herbert said he had "worked his socks off" to make the team, where he will partner Michael McGlinchey.

"His marking ability is something which will be key for us and he's well suited to the role he has been given," he said.

Herbert named the forward trio of Jeremy Brockie, Chris Wood and Kosta Barbarouses to start at the Azteca, saving the attacking flair of Shane Smeltz and Marco Rojas for the return leg in Wellington on November 20.

Herbert, who has admitted that most view qualification as "mission impossible" for the football minnows, said his players were not overawed at the prospect of playing at the 105,000-capacity Azteca.

"There is a calm and responsible feeling around the squad at the moment and we know the challenge which awaits us," he said.

"We will need to be disciplined up against a higher ranked side and our ability to maintain our shape and perform the roles which have been given will be important for us."

New Zealand (3-4-3)

Glen Moss; Tommy Smith (capt), Ivan Vicelich, Andrew Durante; Jeremy Christie, Michael McGlinchey, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead; Jeremy Brockie, Chris Wood, Kosta Barbarouses.

Substitutes: Jake Butler, Ben Sigmund, Bill Tuiloma, Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon, Marco Rojas, Tamati Williams, Chris James, Storm Roux, Craig Henderson, Aaron Clapham, Jacob Spoonley.

Coach: Ricki Herbert.