All Whites advance with late winner

By Michael Brown

Chris Wood of the New Zealand All Whites looks to pass during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and New Caledonia. Photo / Getty Images.
Chris Wood of the New Zealand All Whites looks to pass during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and New Caledonia. Photo / Getty Images.

The All Whites moved a giant step closer to next year's World Cup tonight when they beat New Caledonia, but it came in the most dramatic fashion when Tommy Smith scored in the fourth minute of injury time to secure a 2-1 win.

It means they progress to November's intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best team from North and Central America for a place at next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Four years ago they beat Bahrain 1-0 in Wellington in the decisive playoff match to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and now they will sit back and wait to see who they will meet in the winner-take-all contest.

It means they can travel to Honiara on Sunday for Tuesday's match against the Solomon Islands safe in the knowledge the job is done. For a long time tonight, it looked like the game would have everything riding on it - and that's Honiara as in Horror in Honiara, the scene of last year's failed Oceania Nations Cup.

Coach Ricki Herbert will now be able to ring the changes for that match and will even be able to hand Andrew Durante a debut. New Zealand Football hope his eligibility is questioned so they can get the definitive answer on whether the Australian-born defender can play for New Zealand.

The All Whites made hard work of their win tonight. They had enough chances to score as many as five but their profligacy invited trouble and New Caledonia took advantage.

It looked like things would progress comfortably when Chris Killen headed in powerfully in the 10th minute from a Marco Rojas corner but the All Whites couldn't find the second that might have killed off the match.

They completely dominated the first half, and Smith cannoned a header off the crossbar, but came under considerable pressure from Les Cagous who grew in confidence as the game wore on.

The visitors were rewarded when Cesar Lolohea levelled things up in the 56th minute with a beautifully-taken goal - he expertly chested the ball down and volleyed with his next movement but the marking from Ivan Vicelich and Smith was questionable.

The All Whites still had chances to wrap things up, with Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood and substitute Kosta Barbarouses gifted golden chances to win it before Smith looped a header over goalkeeper Rocky Nyikeine in the 94th minute.

It rounded out a crazy final few minutes punctuated a dangerous kick to the head on Smeltz that had him bleeding profusely from the head.

New Zealand are developing into a reasonable passing side with the emergence of skilful players like Rojas and Michael McGlinchey but their best chances came from long balls and using their big bodies in the box.

It made for a poor spectacle but the result was all that counted and that is all that New Zealand will worry about.

All Whites 2 (Chris Killen 10, Tommy Smith 94) New Caledonia 1 (Cesar Lolohea 56). HT: 1-0.

- APNZ

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