Soccer: Junior All Whites edge Vanuatu

New Zealand remains on track to qualify for the under-20 World Cup after grinding out a 1-0 win over an aggressive Vanuatu in Fiji yesterday.

Van Elia's 23rd minute goal proved to be the difference between the two sides in energy-sapping conditions at Churchill Park in Lautoka.

Coach Chris Milicich was proud of the Junior All Whites who stood up to the test of an "up for it" opposition.

"We controlled the game in the first 45 minutes, got our goal and had another ruled out," Milicich said

"It was a must-win encounter for Vanuatu and they changed their game plan in the second half and threw everything they had at us."

Mindful of the difficult task of playing four matches in eight days, Milicich rotated his squad and made six changes to his starting 11.

After appearing as substitutes in the opening match, Dale Higham and Bill Tuiloma were inserted from the kickoff while goalkeeper Max Crocombe, Jesse Edge, Elia and Kade Schrijvers got their first taste of action at the Oceania under-20 championship.

Fullback Tuiloma played a major part in the goal, starting the move in his own half before providing the final ball for Elia to slam home what proved to be the only score of the match. Two minutes before the interval, Junior All Whites captain Luke Adams put the ball in the back of the net with a towering header only to have the strike ruled out.

"One of the things we have spoken about is putting sides away before external factors begin to play a part," Milicich said.

New Zealand was joined at the top of the standings by Fiji, who defeated New Caledonia 3-2 to also make it two wins from two. Despite their defeat, Milicich was impressed by New Caledonia and predicted a tough match for his side on Monday.

- APNZ

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