New Zealand 3 Tahiti 0
The All Whites failed to celebrate Ryan Nelsen's homecoming match in style, but the skipper and his coach were happy to take the scrappy 3-0 win over Tahiti in last night's World Cup qualifying match in Christchurch.
The three crucial points keep New Zealand on top of the Oceania qualifying group and on track for the winner-takes-all intercontinental play-off.
"We got three points, another clean sheet and we are looking forward to New Caledonia now," said coach Ricki Herbert, referring to their next match in which New Zealand can seal top spot.
Herbert showed his attacking intentions by fielding four strikers and once Michael McGlinchey got the first of his two goals within three minutes, the Canterbury crowd expected the floodgates to open.
His striking colleagues seemed to have butchered the opportunity, but McGlinchey was on the spot to fire home the rebound from the edge off the box for his second goal in an All Whites shirt.
The tiny midfielder had an outstanding game and was at the centre of all the action, showing Herbert he could become the creative genius New Zealand football teams have been craving for.
"It was one the best games Michael has played for New Zealand," said his skipper. "The field was like glue and he was right in the middle of some reckless play and he just controlled it."
After that early breakthrough the All Whites took their foot off the pedal but the sloppy Tahitian defence continued to offer more opportunities. McGlinchey, Chris Killen, Jeremy Brockie and Kosta Barbarouses would have been disappointed not to have added to the first-half score.
"We struggled to get going," Herbert admitted. "The momentum wasn't just there tonight."
The Islanders were clearly struggling with the freezing conditions and would have been relieved when two failing light masts triggered a slightly premature end to the first half.
Even Nelsen could have been on the scoreboard in the 20th minute, but Tahiti goalkeeper Gilbert Meriel thwarted the fairytale story line in the skipper's highly anticipated homecoming match.
"It was fantastic," Nelsen smiled. "I saw so many familiar faces from when I was playing just down the road. So thirty years on, to see them in my last game in Christchurch was really special."
Over 10,000 Cantabrians joined the party on a cold Tuesday, outnumbering the 7930 fans at North Harbour Stadium.
The All Whites increased the tempo after the break and the chances started piling up, only for the wall of Tahitians to frustrate the Kiwi onslaught.
Even the introduction of goal poacher Shane Smeltz did little to ease the crowd's nerves and the All Whites game looked increasingly desperate and laboured as the game dragged itself to the finish.
With the threat of a sneaky equaliser always on the cards, , Herbert would have been relieved to see Killen tap in a late second goal after keeper Meriel failed to hold onto a Barbarouses shot.
The hardy fans that had put up with the freezing conditions until injury time got their just rewards when McGlinchey crowned his performance with a wonderful second goal, curling the ball into the top right corner. "No keeper could have saved that," Nelsen said.
A messy melee spoiled the final minutes and did little to enhance the reputation of Tahiti which has not won a game since their famous the Oceania Nations Cup in July and must be fearing the worst representing Oceania at next year's Confederations Cup.
New Zealand 3 (Michael McGlinchey 3, 94, Chris Killen 90) Tahiti 0. Crowd: 10,751
- APNZBy Coen Lammers of the Ashburton Guardian