Football: All Whites claim Nations Cup on shootout

By Kris Shannon

New Zealand 0 (4) Papua New Guinea 0 (2)
New Zealand's Rory Fallon and Papua New Guinea's Michael Foster challenge for the ball. Photo / Phototek
New Zealand's Rory Fallon and Papua New Guinea's Michael Foster challenge for the ball. Photo / Phototek

If New Zealand are to eventually qualify for the 2018 World Cup, they will have to cast their minds back a couple of years and say a silent prayer for Stefan Marinovic.

The goalkeeper played the hero as the All Whites won the OFC Nations Cup in a penalty shootout, saving two spot kicks to ensure the path to Russia will be paved with high-quality opponents.

After a dour 120 minutes that was rather reflective of their tournament as a whole, Marinovic saved the first Papua New Guinea penalty and then tapped another onto the post, setting the stage for Marco Rojas to clinch victory and upset a vocal home crowd.

Marinovic had assumed the No 1 jersey only after Glen Moss was ruled out through eye surgery but the German-based stopper excelled all tournament, emerging unbeaten from open play as an uninspired All Whites side ground their way to glory.

Given the men their defence was missing and given scarcity of opportunities they created at the opposite end, Marinovic's assured presence was absolutely pivotal in helping his side qualify for next year's Confederations Cup.

Punching their ticket for that tournament produced a financial windfall of around $2.5 million and set up three fixtures against world-class opposition, a level of preparation for the World Cup qualifying path that, based on current evidence, will be sorely needed.

In fairness to Anthony Hudson, his reign had previously been marked by a priority on possession-based football, and he was unable to call on several key players in Port Moresby. But, aside from one half, the All Whites rarely impressed while securing the results, a trend that continued in the tournament showpiece.

They manufactured chances only through set pieces, with Rory Fallon and Jeremy Brockie both proving inaccurate with their heads during the extra period, the former Phoenix striker's woes compounded when he erred from the spot in the shootout.

Marinovic was there to spare Brockie's blushes and, given his performance in the 90 minutes, that outcome should have come as no surprise. The keeper was exemplary throughout, punching well, catching cleanly and turning around the post Papua New Guinea's best chance of the match.

The home side were always energetic but only occasionally effective while in attack, showing a greater threat than their opponents but often unable to achieve anything with all their menace. And the All Whites were certainly thankful for that, failing to test the Papua New Guinea defence with any consistency.

It told the story of the match that New Zealand generally appeared at their most dangerous when the ball was in Bill Tuiloma's hands and he was ready to launch another long throw.

What he and his teammates did with their feet was far less impressive and it was appropriate, in the end, for the tournament to be decided not by a sparkling All Whites attack but the efforts of their goalkeeper.

New Zealand 0 (4)
Papua New Guinea (2)
Halftime 0-0

- NZ Herald

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