All Whites striker Shane Smeltz has been ruled out of the OFC Nations Cup after suffering from a recurring foot injury during the A-League season.
The 34-year-old, who has scored 24 goals from his 51 internationals for New Zealand, was managing a strain to his plantar fascia and was being monitored by the Sydney FC and All Whites medical teams.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson decided it was not worth risking further injury to Smeltz and has replaced him with promising attacking midfielder Luka Prelevic.
"It is a disappointing because we'd love to have Smeltzy with us," says Hudson from Brisbane. "We have been monitoring him for quite a few weeks now and it has been causing him a lot of problems. He has been having injections and is not right. We need him fit, and it ultimately wouldn't be good for us and it wouldn't be good for him if we forced him here."
Hudson says Prelevic, a 20-year-old forward who plays his football for the Pascoe Vale SC in Melbourne, would not be out of place as he eyes his international debut.
Prelevic was a member of the All Whites U-23 squad who played in Papua New Guinea last year and featured in the team's opening 2-0 win in the training game against Brisbane club side Western Pride FC.
"Luka did very well for us in the islands last year," said Hudson. "He is a big player, a strong player, he is an attacking midfielder and I have no problem with Luka coming into the squad."
After a two week camp in Auckland and Brisbane, the All Whites get on the plane to Papua New Guinea tomorrow morning and begin the final preparations for their opener against Fiji on Saturday.