Soccer: All Whites kick off campaign with win

By Michael Brown of APNZ in Honiara

Tommy Smith scored the only goal against Fiji today. 
Photo/ File, Ron Gaunt
Tommy Smith scored the only goal against Fiji today. Photo/ File, Ron Gaunt

The All Whites opened their World Cup campaign safely with a 1-0 win over Fiji in Honiara today, but it came at a cost with goalkeeper Mark Paston picking up a heavy knock to the head.

Paston was helped from the field in the 52nd minute looking decidedly groggy and was replaced by Jake Gleeson in goal.

An injury to a key player is exactly what coach Ricki Herbert had hoped to avoid as he looks to negotiate a brutal schedule of five games in nine days and it's too early to know whether Paston will recover in time to take on Papua New Guinea on Monday.

They at least won against a tricky and physical Fijian side but it was far from convincing and they had to soak up considerable pressure in the second half.

They don't want to expend too much energy in matches given the oppressive conditions and condensed format and they tried to play patient football.

It meant, however, players weren't always where teammates expected them to be when looking to lay off a pass. They lacked the sort of zip they showed in the recent games against Honduras and El Salvador but the humidity was clearly taking its toll.

Marco Rojas, who had looked so good in the last two games, was also dominated physically and was replaced by Chris Wood early in the second half to offer more physical presence and Rory Fallon also came on late for the same reason.

Fiji, in contrast, looked to break with pace and got the ball forward as quickly as they could. They caused a few nervous moments - Paston tipped a couple of very good efforts over the bar before he went off - and were the better side in the second spell as they chased an equaliser.

The All Whites won courtesy of a ninth-minute goal to captain Tommy Smith, his first international goal. Few would come much easier.

Leo Bertos fired in a free-kick which landed in front of goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau, who is better known in New Zealand for being denied entry into the country in 2007 because of his links to the military, who spilled the ball directly at Smith's feet.

Good chances also fell to Rojas, who blasted wide from inside the box, and Shane Smeltz who did so well to scoop the ball over a defender only to fire it over the crossbar.
The midfield combination of Michael McGlinchey and Chris Killen, who was playing the unfamiliar role of holding midfielder, were among New Zealand's best but there is a lot for Herbert to ponder.

Any World Cup win, however, is a good one.

New Zealand 1 (Tommy Smith 9) Fiji 0. HT: 1-0.

- APNZ

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