Perth Glory marquee man Shane Smeltz is confident he is fit enough to play a role for New Zealand this month in what are sure to be two of the biggest international games of his career.
Smeltz returns from injury for Glory against Sydney FC at nib Stadium tomorrow and will start on the bench after being included in the squad for the first time this season.
The star striker had surgery over the off-season to repair a long-term hip complaint and has not featured in any of Glory’s first three games.
He rejoined training a month ago and has slowly built up his workload.
Smeltz needs game time at Glory in order to prove his fitness and feature for New Zealand in their crucial two-legged World Cup qualifying play-off with Mexico.
The first leg will be played at Mexico City’s renowned Estadio Azteca on November 13, with the return leg in Wellington a week later.
Tomorrow’s A-League clash with Sydney is Smeltz’s only chance to play in a competitive environment before the qualifiers, but he was upbeat about his prospects of having an impact on the international stage.
“I’m not worried about the hip at all,” Smeltz said.
“I’ve been given the all-clear and it’s going to get better as the weeks go by.
“I’m not pulling up sore like I was beforehand, which is the main thing.”
Smeltz scored for the All Whites in a draw against title holders Italy at the 2010 World Cup and featured in both legs of the AFC-OFC play-off against Bahrain that year.
But he has played in few bigger games than the upcoming showdown with Mexico.
“There’s no underestimating how big it’s going to be,” Smeltz said.
“It’s going to be a full house against a very strong nation that qualifies for the World Cup all the time.
“We’re used to being underdogs. We’re going to go in there with a job to do and we’re confident that we can get something.
“We certainly know it’s a mountain to climb, but we’re prepared to do it.”
New Zealand emerged unbeaten from the 2010 World Cup with three draws against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.
Those results came after a nerve-wracking 1-0 win over Bahrain in the final stage of qualification.
Smeltz was confident the All Whites had enough big-game experience to cope with the pressure-cooker atmosphere against Mexico.
“You draw something from all those pressure games against top opposition and games at the World Cup against big nations,” Smeltz said.
“Reflecting back on the last World Cup qualifying campaign, those two games (against Bahrain) were massive.
“There’s certainly a different feeling when you know at the end of the game there’s a result.
“I think we’ve got a fair bit of experience going into the game, so hopefully we can come up with the goods.”The New Zealand-Mexico play-off has the potential to have a major impact on Glory’s clash with Wellington Phoenix in round six, with Smeltz and a raft of Wellington players in line for All Whites selection.