The All Whites opened their World Cup campaign in style with a 2-0 win over New Caledonia in Noumea tonight, avenging the loss by the same score to Les Cagous at June's Oceania Nations Cup.
"It was a good result and important to start like this,'' said All Whites coach Ricki Herbert in looking back on the game. "In the first half we were quite convincing and in the second they threw the kitchen sink at us and we came away with the points. Mark Paston did not have a save to make all game.
"I was pleased with the result. Everyone played well. I wouldn't single out any player. The intensity was a lot better. It was good to reverse that last result. As I have said, we are looking forward not back and this is a good start.''
The All Whites wasted no time in taking the initiative at Stade Numa Daly.
In the opening minutes they created attacking opportunities from two free kicks and a corner but were denied by a headed clearance, a deflection and goalkeeper Rocky Nyikeine's gloves.
That early pressure told however and after 12 minutes the visitors grabbed the lead when Nyikeine deflected a shot from Chris Wood to Shane Smeltz who buried it.
Stung, the home side battled back to create chances for Bertrand Kai and top striker Georges Gope-Fenepej, who plies his trade at French Ligue 1 club Troyes, but two attempts were wide and All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston was untroubled in dealing with the third.
After soaking up more pressure, the All Whites hit back in the shadow of halftime when Michael McGlinchey, who earlier had headed a Tony Lochhead cross wide, picked out Smeltz who in turn found Wood who headed home for 2-0 after 40 minutes.
The hosts had a half chance before halftime but without seriously threatening and the visitors went to the break still 2-0 ahead but not before Iamel Kabeu and McGlinchey had been booked by Tahitian referee Norbert Hauata.
The All Whites again dominated the early stages of the second half with captain Ryan Nelsen just failing to find the target from a Tony Lochhead corner. Of greater concern however were bookings for Smeltz and Winston Reid who, like McGlinchey, will be treading eggshells in the remaining qualifiers.
As a precaution, coach Ricki Herbert replaced McGlinchey with Tim Payne with 15 minutes to play and later injected Kosta Barbarouses for Jeremy Brockie as the All Whites maintained their composure and control in running the clock down.
Gope-Fenepej had a late chance in the four minutes of added time but was wide and the All Whites were left to celebrate a winning start to their campaign.
In a surprise result in the earlier opening day match, Nations Cup winners Tahiti were beaten 2-0 by the Solomon Islands in Honiara.
After Henry Fa'arodo had combined with Benjamin Totori to give the home team the lead after 17 minutes, the Tahitians were up against it with worse to follow when Nicolas Vallar was sent off in the last act of the first half for a reckless tackle on Solomons captain Fa'arodo.
The Bonitos doubled their lead on the hour when Fa'arodo turned provider for Himson Teleda.
It was a perfect start for the Solomons who now face the All Whites at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night in round two action.By Terry Maddaford of the NZ Herald