AUCKLAND – Shane Smeltz treated New Zealand fans to a record-equalling run of goal scoring form on Wednesday night as his second half double led the Thai Airways All Whites to a 3-0 win over New Caledonia at North Harbour Stadium.
Smeltz scored either side of substitute Jeremy Christie’s first international goal to match Keith Nelson’s 30-year-old record of scoring in six consecutive internationals and even equalled the 10 goal haul Nelson managed in that run.
With a place in the 2009 Confederations Cup and a playoff against an Asian Nation for a place in the World Cup already secured by their fourth win of the campaign on Saturday, New Zealand could be forgiven for taken the foot off the pedal, but had two great chances to open the scoring within the first 15 minutes.
Both fell to Smeltz, who was denied first by a reflex save from Michel Hne from close range in the sixth minute, and then by the linesman’s flag after a clinical glancing header was ruled out for offside minutes later.
New Caledonia’s only real chance was a 16th minute free-kick from Pierre Wajoka, under-estimated by Mark Paston who watched it dip onto his cross bar.
On a day when 86 nations were involved in qualifiers for a World Cup from which New Zealand is just two wins away, it was just a lack of finishing touches that prevented the All Whites reflecting their overall dominance with a larger margin on the scoreboard.
ONC_Winners_SW300“We were never threatened really,” said All Whites vice-captain Tim Brown.
“We could’ve pushed forward and taken risks but we didn’t need to.
“We created 20, 25 chances. They’re hard to play against – their shape’s all over the place but I think we can be quietly happy with that performance.
“We’ve learnt when playing against the Island nations that if we keep our shape and chances will come.”
A scoreless first half frustrated a 6,500-strong crowd at North Harbour Stadium to witness the All Whites return to Auckland after a two year absence, but the tension was lifted after just five second half minutes by Smeltz who nodded New Zealand in front from Chris James’s cross.
Impressive midfielders Simon Elliott and James – a livewire in an advanced role – both wasted good chances shortly afterwards but Christie needed just one – scoring with his first touch of the game – to double the lead in the 69th minute, moments after entering the game from the bench.
Then in the 76th minute, just as he had done against Vanuatu and New Caledonia previously, Smeltz saved his best for last, picking up a scrappy ball on the edge of the area and creating just enough space with a half step to squeeze the ball past his man and into the bottom corner of Hne’s goal.
“Once we scored the first one they opened up a bit, said Smeltz.
“We continued to play well throughout the rest of the match, Ryan _Nelsen_signs_300controlling the tempo of the match and playing at our pace.”
Whether or not Smeltz gets the opportunity to break Keith Nelson’s record in the All Whites last remaining Oceania Nations Cup fixture – a dead rubber against Fiji in Lautoka on November 19 remains to be seen.
While All Whites coach Ricki Herbert suggested Smeltz had “a pretty good chance” of breaking the record, he indicated the Fiji match would be used to introduce younger players.
“It probably won’t be the same group of players [used against New Caledonia],” Herbert said.
“It won’t be about the World Cup programme it’ll be about the future of the game”
“I tend to think it’ll be a very young side. There are some domestic players we want to give a little bit more time to – that have been part of what we’ve done over the last three years.”
“We wait and see what happens from discussions in the next 48 hours. I think it’s an opportunity for some boys that have been to some of the younger world Cups and Olympics. “
2008 OFC Nations Cup/2010 FIFA World Cup:
New Zealand 3 (Shane Smeltz 50, 77, Jeremy Christie 69) New Caledonia 0Wednesday 10 June, 2008North Harbour StadiumAucklandThai Airways All Whites: 1. Mark PASTON (GK); 2. David MULLIGAN, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Simon ELLIOTT, 5. Ben SIGMUND, 6. Ryan NELSEN (Captain / 12. Andrew BOYENS 65), 8. Duncan OUGHTON (15. Jeremy CHRISTIE 67), 10. Shane SMELTZ (13. Steven OLD 84), 11. Jarrod SMITH, 14. Tim BROWN, 16. Chris JAMES.Substitutes Not Used: 18. Glen MOSS [RGK], 9. Jeremy BROCKIE, , 17. Allan PEARCE.Cautions: Brown 55,New Caledonia: 3. Jonathan KAKOU, 4. Andre SINEDO, 5. Georges WADENGES, 6. Marius MAPOU, 8. Roy KAYARA (12. Luther WAHNYAMALLA 46) 9. Allan HNAUTRA (11. Patrick DIAIKE 63), 10. Pierre WAJOKA (Captain), 14. Ramon DJAMALI, 15. Jean Patrick WAKANUMUNE (13. Cedric NONMEU 84), 17. Michel HMAE, 20. Michel HNE (GK).Substitutes Not Used: 1. Jean Marc OUNEMOA (RGK), 2. Noel KAUDRE, 7. Bertrand KAI, 16. Loic HOUALA.REFEREE: Norbert HAUATA (TAH)ASSISTANT REFEREE 1: Phillipe REVEL (TAH)ASSISTANT REFEREE 2: Teariki GOODWIN (COK)FOURTH OFFICIAL: Andrew MOLI (SOL)