Shane Smeltz in form in Indonesia ahead of New Zealand games
Two-time A-League Golden Boot Shane Smeltz is finding his shooting boots at the right time in Indonesia's Liga 1 and it may spell bad news for Argentina.
The well-travelled New Zealand sharpshooter has scored in both his last two games for his Indonesian club Borneo. The sweetest strike was the only goal of a 1-0 win against local rivals Persiba Balikpapan on Monday.
"I was very pleased to get the winning goal," Smeltz told ESPN FC. "It was even better to score in a derby, and that is extra special. I think the only downside is the game was not played at home, but three hours away in Bontang. There were no fans there."
A recent altercation between club president and a referee ensured two home matches had to be played away.
"We had a home ban for four games that was cut to two. It was a different experience but it was great to get the win and the winning goal," he said.
Smeltz arrived in April and is starting to show the scoring form that has won respect from defenders in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.
The 35-year-old only arrived in Borneo three days before his debut.
"The longer I have been here I have become more accustomed to it, and have become more comfortable," he said.
"There was no preseason. It has been good though. It too a little while to settle in. We have had a couple of coaching changes, which is never easy."
Yet, Indonesia can be quite the eye-opener for even an experienced striker such as Smeltz. This football-loving country still wrestles with corruption, fan violence and, at times, official incompetence.
He said: "Certainly, there are some things that I haven't experienced before, just with scheduling, travel and referees but this is common in this part of the world. You have to adapt. As a foreigner, it is hard to accept certain things but you are playing in their country." As the season has progressed, it has become better all around.
"We are finding our feet at the right time. We have been together for a while now, and recent results have been in the up," Smeltz said.
"The target for the club has been to try and finish in the top five and our aim is to get ourselves up there as far as we can. There is not to long left, and we want to win as many games as we can."
The title is out of reach as the season has been a competitive one at the top. Bhayangkara are currently in pole position but Bali United, PSM, Persipura and Madura United are all in the hunt.
Smeltz scored against Bhayangkara recently, and believes the race for the title is wide open.
"It's tough to predict. We played Bhayangkara and they are doing really really well. I felt though that while they are a decent team, they are beatable. Not one team is running away with it and it will be exciting to see what happens," he said.
Whatever does come to pass, the biggest games of 2017 for Smeltz are going to be the two-legged play off in November. The winner of that clash between New Zealand and the fifth-placed team from South America -- currently Argentina -- will go to the 2018 World Cup.
Smeltz scored against Italy in the 2010 edition and would love nothing more than to go to Russia next June. Coming into form for his club at the right time will not do any harm.
"It is crucial to be playing well for Borneo," Smeltz said. "I have said in the past that as a country, for New Zealand to do something then every player has to be right on their game, not just the stars, but the squad players too.
"We are a small nation and we are going to be playing the fifth-placed team from South America. We don't know exactly who, but it will be a strong nation. We all need to pull together, and I want to keep scoring for Borneo to help a high finish and also to keep in shape for my country."
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.