The All Whites have confirmed their place in November’s intercontinental play-off for a berth at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Anthony Hudson’s team, who defeated the Solomon Islands 6-1 in Auckland on Friday night, backed up that performance with a 2-2 draw today at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara against a home side that showed plenty of fight and character in the hot and humid conditions.
New Zealand won the tie on an aggregate score of 8-3 to book their spot in a home-and-away qualifier against the fifth-ranked nation from South America.
The identity of that team will be determined in October but, for now, the All Whites can reflect on a job well done in comfortably winning the OFC final stage of qualifying and maintaining their unbeaten record against Pacific Island nations under Hudson.
The All Whites got off to an ideal start when Myer Bevan opened the scoring with his first international goal in the 14th minute. Seven minutes later the unfortunate Nelson Sale headed a Kosta Barbarouses cross into the back of his own net to put the hosts 2-0 down.
But the locals, in front of a crowd of around 20,000 rowdy fans, fought back and were awarded a penalty nearly half an hour in when All Whites captain Andrew Durante was ruled to have brought down Auckland City player Micah Lea’alafa just inside the box.
The Bonitos dangerman, who missed the opening leg through visa issues, gave All Whites goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic no chance with a perfectly-placed penalty into the bottom right corner. New Zealand led for most of the match but found themselves on level terms again when the Solomon Islands were awarded another penalty in the 76th minute and skipper Henry Fa’arodo made no mistake.
It was a new-look All Whites side from the team that won so convincingly at QBE Stadium a few days ago. There were four changes to the starting eleven with the absence of skipper Chris Wood, Ryan Thomas and Michael McGlinchey. Regular centre back Michael Boxall, who picked up an early yellow card in the home leg, was on the bench.
Bevan earned his first start for the national team and Moses Dyer, Thomas Doyle and Durante were all elevated to the starting line-up with the latter taking the skipper’s armband.
Bevan, a standout from New Zealand’s effort at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup, got his senior international career off to the perfect start after Monty Patterson had picked out Storm Roux with a great lofted pass. The right wing-back hit the post with his effort and the ball then bounced out to Barbarouses, whose shot was fumbled by Philip Mango for Bevan to show a real predator’s instinct and force home at close range.
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Soon after, the home team went further behind when Barbarouses turned his marker inside out down the left before delivering a dangerous cross into the box that Sale could only head past Mango and make it 8-1 on aggregate.
But the Bonitos came back into the match with Lea’alafa, Gagame Feni and Benjamin Totori – all of whom have played for New Zealand clubs – looking threatening going forward. In a busy afternoon for the Vancouver Whitecaps custodian, Stefan Marinovic was tested time and again but was equal to anything the Solomons could throw at him and pulled off a string of fine saves.
He was beaten by Lea’alafa from the spot though and the referee’s whistle again proved the All Whites’ enemy late on when Sam Brotherton was adjudged to have fouled James Naka and Fa’arodo duly converted.
Hudson had earlier made two changes with Monty Patterson making way for Alex Rufer just before the hour and James Musa coming on for Moses Dyer in the 77th minute to close out the match.
The Bonitos will be pleased to have earned one of the most memorable results in their history but the All Whites will be just as satisfied after continuing their fine record against Oceania nations. In Hudson’s three years in charge of the national team, his men have won nine times and drawn twice from their 11 games against Pacific Island opposition with a record of 24 goals for and just four against, none of those conceded coming from open play.
The All Whites will travel home to New Zealand tomorrow and can now start planning towards November. They will look to make history and become only the third team from this country to qualify for the FIFA World Cup after the legendary 1982 and 2010 sides.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson on the 2-2 draw against Solomon Islands
OFC Final Stage – FIFA World Cup Qualifying
Solomon Islands 2 (Micah Lea’alafa pen 28’, Henry Fa’arodo pen 77’)
New Zealand 2 (Myer Bevan 14’, own goal 21’)
New Zealand: 1. Stefan Marinovic (GK), 2. Sam Brotherton, 3. Deklan Wynne, 4. Themi Tzimopoulos, 7. Kosta Barbarouses, 13. Monty Patterson (19. Alex Rufer 58’), 15. Myer Bevan, 16. Moses Dyer (6. James Musa 77’), 17. Thomas Doyle, 21. Storm Roux, 22. Andrew Durante (c)
Caution: Myer Bevan 65’
Substitutes not used: 5. Michael Boxall, 12. Glen Moss (GK), 18. Kip Colvey
Coach: Anthony Hudson