New Zealand 2
The All Whites appear to have learned the lessons of their ill-fated Oceania Nations Cup campaign, securing an invaluable 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Tahiti in Papeete tonight.
After New Zealand failed to fire and finished third in the Solomon Islands, Ricki Herbert and his men have since won two in a row in the testing Pacific Island conditions.
With a perfect record of three wins from three in the final stage of qualifying, the All Whites head into next week's rematch in Christchurch in the box seat to advance from Oceania to next year's intercontinental playoff for a place in Brazil.
"We've got our noses in front,'' Herbert said. "New Caledonia (three points behind) are not letting go and that tussle will continue.
"So it's really important on Tuesday to get another good result.''
They may have suffered without Premiership pair Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid during the Nations Cup in June, but this time the All Whites made no mistake in their absence.
A goal in each half from Shane Smeltz and Ben Sigmund proved more than enough, with the Tahitians unable to truly test the visitors' defence throughout the 90 minutes.
Herbert thought Sigmund, making a rare start at international level, ensured the All Whites coped capably without their most distinguished defenders.
"You've certainly got a real rock there,'' Herbert said. "I was delighted for Ben, he's waited in the wings to get his chance and, in what was going to be a tough game, he certainly stood up. I thought he was absolutely outstanding and he topped that off with a goal.''
Sigmund's late goal settled the nerves after the All Whited found the going tough in the early stages.
A cagey first half was bereft of chances for either side, with Glen Moss - starting after Mark Paston was sidelined with an infected foot - given little to do in goal, while Tahiti custodian Xavier Samin spilled the only real save he had to make.
That error in the 24th minute presented Smeltz with his chance and the striker gratefully accepted the opportunity for his 23rd international goal, breaking a tie with assistant coach Brian Turner for second on New Zealand's all-time list.
"It was great to see Shane on the scoresheet again,'' Herbert said. ``He came into the national team when I took over in 2005 and he's been integral. He's a great finisher and tonight was no exception.''
Physical play dominated the rest of the half and New Zealand were unimpressed by a few overzealous challenges from the home side, with several players making their feelings known to the officials as the sides went to the break.
Though the All Whites began the second spell with more promise, there was still very little end product. The attacking triumvirate of Smeltz, Chris Wood and Chris Killen often toyed with the Tahitian defenders in and around the box, but the frontmen failed to fashion clear openings.
Killen missed a tough chance shortly after the break, finding the angle too acute after rounding the keeper, before Wood blazed over after being sent through one-on-one.
With the strikers stuttering Sigmund showed the way to goal, meeting Tony Lochhead's corner and heading in with aplomb to seal the points and move the All Whites one step further along their road to Brazil.
New Zealand 2 (Smeltz 24, Sigmund 82)
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris