Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Football: Hudson's heroes put heat on

All White Michael McGlinchey (left) battles for possession with Fiji's Peniame Drova in Lautoka yesterday. Photo / OFC Media
All White Michael McGlinchey (left) battles for possession with Fiji's Peniame Drova in Lautoka yesterday. Photo / OFC Media

Momentum is building nicely for the All Whites.

Yesterday's efficient 2-0 win over Fiji in Lautoka sets up the ideal scenario for coach Anthony Hudson's team.

With only a point needed to seal top spot of their group in the Oceania stage three qualifiers - which will ensure progression to the two-leg OFC playoff final in September - Hudson has several options at his disposal for Tuesday night's return match in Wellington.

The coach won't want to take any undue risks but could confidently rest some of his higher profile names, to give some exposure to some younger players.

He may even choose to release one or two of his European-based players back to their clubs, as a goodwill gesture ahead of a bumper 2017 schedule for the All Whites.

Although it was a professional performance, no one should get carried away with yesterday's win.

Fiji played like a bunch of strangers at times and were terribly disorganised at the back, with both the All Whites goals gift wrapped, courtesy of defensive errors that would be howlers at 1st XI level.

But there were things to like. New Zealand's ability to hold possession was much improved on their 2016 Nations Cup output, and they showed good awareness and intelligence in energy-sapping conditions.

And Fiji's mistakes - as bad as they were - were products of the constant New Zealand pressure, with Hudson's high pressing style paying dividends.

After Ricki Herbert seemingly misplaced the manual for Oceania success in Honiara five years ago, when the All Whites looked out of sorts against Island opposition, Hudson has rediscovered the blueprint for success in the region.

The All Whites looked solid, made good use of their aerial advantages and tactically looked like they had done their homework.

Their level will need to increase significantly by the time of the Confederations Cup but there are signs of progression.

Yesterday ended up being quite straightforward. A penalty from Chris Wood early in the second half - after a calamitous hand ball inside the area by a Fiji defender - gave New Zealand some breathing space, after they had failed to convert several chances in the first half.

Marco Rojas sealed the result in the 55th minute, stroking the ball into an empty net after he had dispossessed the dallying Fijian goalkeeper Beniamino Mateinaqara outside his area.

A second Rojas strike was ruled out for offside - a tight but correct decision - and Clayton Lewis came close with a long range effort, while a Wood header struck a post.

Fiji's best chance came during a counter-attack late in the first half, snuffed out by a superb Themistoklis Tzimopoulos covering tackle.

Tommy Smith made his international return as a late replacement. Fellow veteran Shane Smeltz was also brought on in the second half.

The defensive trio of Andrew Durante, Michael Boxall and Tzimopoulos were mostly untroubled, and Bill Tuiloma and Michael McGlinchey made encouraging returns to action. Rojas was a constant threat, underlying his transformation since he returned to the Southern Hemisphere.

"I was really happy that we kept a clean sheet and this was a professional performance," said Hudson. "We are looking forward to taking this result back home and finishing the job off. We are pleased with the performance on the back of all the travel and preparation for this game."

New Zealand 2 (C. Wood 47 pen, M. Rojas 55) Fiji 0. Halftime: 0-0

- Herald on Sunday

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