Tim Brown's World Cup dream remains alive after he was given the go-ahead to join his New Zealand team-mates in South Africa having made good progress in his recovery from a fractured shoulder.
The 29-year-old All Whites vice-captain, who suffered the injury during New Zealand's friendly against Australia, underwent surgery to insert three screws into his damaged right shoulder two weeks ago.
The recovery time was expected to be six weeks but such has been Brown's determination to get fit for football's showpiece event that his rehabilitation is three weeks ahead of schedule and he is set to depart New Zealand on Thursday.
A final decision on whether to replace him in the 23-man squad, however, is expected to be made once he links up with the team and undergoes one last assessment by the All Whites medical staff.
Wellington's Cole Peverley has been training with the squad in Europe and South Africa since being called up on standby for Brown and he will remain with the team as injury cover.
Coach Ricki Herbert, who vowed to give his workhorse midfielder as much time as possible to prove his fitness, said the squad were delighted to be able to welcome back such an integral player.
"We're thankful for the surgeon Stu Walsh and the medical staff that looked after him for doing a tremendous job," Herbert said.
"He has apparently come through everything so well."
New Zealand's World Cup opener is against Slovakia on June 15.
They play Italy five days later before rounding off against Paraguay on June 24.