Soccer: Smeltz closes in on national record

By Kris Shannon

When Shane Smeltz scored both New Zealand goals in a draw against Wales in 2007, there was little indication he would soon become the All Whites' all-time leading scorer. Photo / Getty Images,
When Shane Smeltz scored both New Zealand goals in a draw against Wales in 2007, there was little indication he would soon become the All Whites' all-time leading scorer. Photo / Getty Images,

When Shane Smeltz scored both New Zealand goals in a meritorious draw against Wales in 2007, there was little indication he would soon become the All Whites' all-time leading scorer.

But, just five years later, Smeltz now sits second on that list and it's a matter of when, not if, he overtakes Vaughan Coveny's record.

Smeltz opened the scoring for the All Whites in their 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Tahiti in Papeete last night, tapping home from close range to notch his 23rd international goal.

"It was great to see Shane on the scoresheet again," Ricki Herbert said. "He came into the national team when I took over and he's been integral. He's a great finisher and [Saturday night] was no exception."

Smeltz now sits five behind Coveny's mark of 28 and, with the scoring touch the 31-year-old has been in, the record won't last for long.

Having scored in his last four matches in the white shirt, Smeltz now has 23 goals in the 35 matches since the Wales draw in Wrexham - a strike rate bettered by very few, anywhere in the world, at international level.

There was no hint the striker possessed such potency heading into that match five years ago. Smeltz had bounced around the Australian and English lower leagues, showing a nose for goal but not one which would eventually make him the highest scorer in the history of the A-League.

At international level, Smeltz needed eight games to notch his first and even went unselected in some of new coach Herbert's initial squads.

But putting two past a full-strength Welsh side sparked something in Smeltz.

His subsequent move to play under Herbert in the Wellington Phoenix's inaugural campaign saw him finish second in the A-League golden boot race. He went one better the following season, scoring a record 12 goals to also win the Johnny Warren medal for the league's best player, before moving to Gold Coast United and then Perth.

Whatever kit he was wearing, Smeltz wouldn't stop scoring. Thirty-one goals in two seasons on the Gold Coast were followed by 16 in his first year for the Glory, overhauling Archie Thompson late last season as the competition's most prolific marksman.

For the All Whites, he steadily set about catching Coveny, notching 10 goals in his first six games following his breakthrough performance in Wales.

He has dined out on Pacific Island defending, recording 13 goals in his last 12 games against Oceania opposition, but he has also struck against Italy (twice), Chile and Serbia.

His latest effort against Tahiti ensured the All Whites took another step forward along their road to Brazil, running their record to three wins from three in the final stage of Oceania qualifying.

If Smeltz can strike against the same opponents in Christchurch on Tuesday night, New Zealand should remain in the box seat to progress to next year's intercontinental playoff.

And, if he keeps scoring, Smeltz and his teammates will fancy their chances of reaching another World Cup.

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