Football: All Whites open Nations Cup with victory

By Kris Shannon

New Zealand 3 Fiji 1
Rory Fallon celebrates scoring New Zealand's second goal against Fiji. Photo / Shane Wenzlick
Rory Fallon celebrates scoring New Zealand's second goal against Fiji. Photo / Shane Wenzlick

The scars of four years ago are still sorely felt so the All Whites know any victory at the Oceania Nations Cup is one worth savouring.

Which means there would have been zero complaints from the New Zealand camp after they opened their tournament with a win over Fiji that was more pragmatic than impressive.

Anthony Hudson's men hardly sent a scare through the rest of the region but, given what happened in Honiara in 2012, that hardly mattered. Nor did the fact all three of the All Whites' goals arrived with a slice of fortune.

What mattered was the right result being attained and the tournament favourites being able to look ahead to Tuesday's clash with Vanuatu knowing that another victory over an inexperienced opponent will essentially secure a spot in the semifinals.

"It wasn't the most entertaining of games but we just had to be solid and compact," coach Anthony Hudson said after earning just the second victory of his reign.

"But I was pleased overall - we were solid, showed good team spirit and it was just about winning the first game."

Such a sentiment was reflected in the way the All Whites opted to play. Missing creative pair Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses - who both joined camp late - Hudson left no doubts about the style that would follow when he chose to start Chris Wood and Rory Fallon in partnership.

Seeking to maximise the pair's stature and physical supremacy, an aerial assault duly followed as New Zealand's midfielders and defenders generally looked to do only one thing when they found the ball at their feet.

"They're both really effective players," Hudson said of his strikers. "We're well aware that we can't come here and play the type of football we want to play. We have to play the conditions and play as much as we can in the opposition half."

That strategy was particularly clear during a dour opening half and, given the number of openings that were forged from long balls and flicks, there was little reason to alter the approach.

Both goals in the first 45 came after the ball dropped into the box to create confusion in the Fijian defence, and neither was particularly pleasing to the eye. Themi Tzimopoulos' deflected finish put his side ahead and Fallon knew little about his strike after an attempted clearance cannoned off his body.

The football was rarely flowing but it was effective and the All Whites would have been confident those goals had provided a match-winning advantage. But Fiji did threaten while enjoying a fair share of possession, posing particular threat when running at the All Whites defence.

That was especially true of Krishna, who often seemed to glide around his man, and it was the Wellington Phoenix man who pulled a goal back with the last kick of the half.

The All Whites might have felt aggrieved with the penalty decision from which Krishna scored, considering moments earlier Wood saw a convincing shout turned down. But any frustrations disappeared after the break when Alvin Singh was adjudged to have handled in the box and Wood barely squeezed the penalty under Simione Tamanisau.

Having their two-goal lead restored allowed New Zealand the luxury of occasionally keeping the ball on the deck. Although they didn't entirely eschew the route one approach, Hudson's men showed greater variation in attack, using wide channels to work their way behind the Fijian defence.

It didn't quite reap rewards, with Fallon squandering a free header and Logan Rogerson striking the post, but three points were secure and the first step toward banishing the horror in Honiara was taken.

New Zealand 3 (Tzimopoulos 16, Fallon 41, Wood 61)
Fiji 1 (Krishna 45+2)
Haftime: 2-1

- NZ Herald

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