Football: All Whites kick off new era with two home matches against China in March

The All Whites will kick off a new chapter, with two home matches against China in March, but will have to do so without their new head coach.

NZ Football has confirmed the fixtures, with the first scheduled for Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on March 23 and the second at Wellington's Sky Stadium on March 26.

However, the appointment of a new head coach has been delayed, with the leading candidate dealing with a family health issue.

Instead, U20 head coach Darren Bazeley will take charge on an interim basis, as the All Whites prepare to host the visitors for the first time in more than three decades.

Despite failing to advance past the third round of the most recent Asian World Cup qualifying, China are ranked 80th in the world rankings, 25 spots above New Zealand.

Their last encounter was a 1-1 draw in Nanchang in 2014, with then newly appointed captain Chris Wood scoring New Zealand's only goal.

Bazeley hopes the tricky doubleheader can build on last year's friendly against Australia at Eden Park, as they also look ahead to the Olympics.

"Everyone involved in last year's game at Eden Park knew what a special moment it was for the team to be in New Zealand, so I'm honoured to be given the chance to bring the squad back again," he said.

"We know what a talented group of players we have and the whole team is excited to get the chance to show what they can do against a good opposition. 

"This tour is also a great opportunity for our U23 players to spend time with the senior squad to properly understand what it takes to be an All White.

"It's a great chance for players from both squads to meet, knowing that, should we qualify, a number of our senior players will form part of our Olympic side." 

Darren Bazeley and Kosta Barbarouses at All Whites camp
Darren Bazeley and Kosta Barbarouses at All Whites camp. Photo credit: Photosport

NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell has thanked Bazeley for taking on the extra workload by stepping into another coaching role.

"We had planned to have the new permanent All Whites head coach in place for the March window, but due to a personal family situation for our leading candidate, this wasn't possible. 

"We didn't want this to delay the team playing, so want to thank Darren Bazeley for stepping up from U20s head coach to take on the team on an interim basis."

Pragnell confirms NZ Football has a preferred candidate lined up for the permanent All Whites head coaching role, but a "family health issue" has prevented them committing to the job in time for the series against China.

"Sometimes in life you get thrown curveballs that you don't always anticipate," said Pragnall.

"We're going to keep monitoring that situation. We're still in dialogue and in positive communication with them and they're intent to come here. Having said that, you never know how these things play out.

"Post March, we'll sit down, review where we're at. See if there's any change in the personal circumstances and take it from there."

Terms have been agreed with the potential new coach but a contract is yet to be signed, Pragnell adds.

Tickets for both games will go on presale to NZ Football’s Football Whānau members on Thursday and on general sale on Friday.