The All Whites, who made the 2010 finals after a 1-0 aggregate victory over fifth-placed Asian side Bahrain, have sealed a November playoff against the fourth placed team in the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) conference after wrapping up the Oceania qualifying spot in March.
As part of their preparations, Herbert’s side will take part in a four-nation tournament in Saudi Arabia next month, where they will play the hosts and then either UAE or Trinidad and Tobago before friendlies in October complete their buildup.
New Zealand have not played since they sealed qualification with their 2-0 victory over the Solomon Islands in Honiara, having failed to make the Confederations Cup after being upset in last year’s Oceania Nations Cup.
Herbert said lack of match practice made the games in Riyadh on September 5 and September 9 more important, especially because of the limited time he gets to work with a squad drawn from leagues in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the U.S. and China.
“It’s still tough while they’re dispersed around various countries,” Herbert told Reuters.
“It’s more to do with the time we get to spend with them.
“We might only get 48 hours with them and if a plane is late we might only get one training session.
“We just don’t get that fundamental extra time where we can work with the players productively. They arrive and bang the game is around the corner.
“If we need to make adjustments before November we really only have four chances to nail it down and for the team to gel.
“That’s the hardest thing but sometimes that’s the resilience of the Kiwi guy, just being adaptable.”
After the Saudi Arabia tournament, Herbert is hoping to organise friendlies in October against CONCACAF opponents and replicate the environment he expects to face in the away leg of the playoff as closely as possible.
Herbert expects Honduras or Panama to be the playoff opponents and, given the passion of Latin American fans and their notoriety for gathering outside rivals’ hotel to keep them awake, was investigating staying in Miami and flying into the venue the day before the match.
“No doubt we will probably get the full extent of that,” he said with a laugh when asked about attempts at disruption.
“We understand that, it’s a passionate part of the world. We just want to give ourselves the best chance.”
The first match of the playoff will be hosted by the CONCACAF nation on November 13 before both teams travel to New Zealand for the return fixture in Wellington on November 20.
Herbert said he had seen suggestions world governing body FIFA was considering chartering a plane to bring both teams to New Zealand but nothing had been confirmed and he hoped to have the upper hand in the tie before the Wellington match.
“The away fixture will strongly determine the outcome of the World Cup,” he said. “The lead in work, the preparation has got to be bullet proof.
“The stronger, more resilient team – whether it’s travel, tiredness, whatever – that backs up a couple of days later will win the tie.
“I would back us to do that, so that’s why the away fixture is so important.”
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)