New Zealand 2 New Caledonia 0

A double from Marco Rojas has secured three opening Oceania qualifying points for the All Whites in their 2-0 win over New Caledonia, as the sides bid to reach the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

The hosts, in their first home match in more than two years, converted their first chance in the 42nd minute with the wind at their backs.

The ball bobbled around the goal box as if caught inside an invisible pinball machine. Rojas controlled it and shot from about 7m out in alignment with the right post. The ball clipped the prone foot of defender Jean-Brice Wadriako and subsequently deceived goalkeeper Thomas Schmidt.

Suddenly the ground was bathed in sunshine, which helped distract fans from getting buffered in the sort of wind tunnel normally reserved for testing America's Cup boats.
Rojas also tapped in a 72nd minute ball after captain Chris Wood's back heel scramble to convert a cross squirted towards the left post.


Wood was the local player of the day. Wherever the action swarmed, the skipper appeared. He controlled the ball in the air off his head, chest and upper thigh on attack or defence and delivered two penetrating free kicks. One hit the right post in the 33rd minute, leaving Schmidt mimicking the Statue of Liberty. Wood's contribution was crucial in the absence of senior players Winston Reid, Tommie Smith, Rory Fallon and Michael McGlinchey.

"Woodsy's a leader," coach Anthony Hudson said. "You see how hard he works on the pitch, and not just as a striker who wants to get on the end of things [because] he runs and presses and tries to win the ball. He epitomises the team.

"I would like him to get some goals, but he's had plenty of chances recently, so they're going to come."

Rojas echoed those sentiments after profiting from Wood's toil.

"I better go and say 'thank you' once I'm in the changing rooms," he quipped. "The first goal settled us down and we played some good football in second half."

New Caledonia had three corners to New Zealand's none in the first half, before the visitors' French-based players, Georges Gope-Fenepej and Cesar Zeoula, set up a prime opportunity in the 50th minute. Gope-Fenepej crossed to Zeoula, whose header went over the bar.

Zeoula weaved further magic in the 57th and 60th minutes which left the New Zealanders looking like nine-pins as his shots shaved the goal. Hudson rose, folded his arms and started pacing.

"I didn't really feel we were under pressure at any stage though," he said. "They caused us a couple of problems, but as the game wore on we got stronger.

"We don't get a lot of time together so we wanted to keep things simple with two to three ways we play. If we're going to change [our game plan] at any time, everyone has to understand.

"Tonight we'll watch the footage, then have 24 hours to recover, followed by a day to look at things on the pitch [before the return leg]."

The match was the All Whites' first outing since last month's two-match visit to the United States when they lost 2-1 to Mexico and drew 1-1 with the Americans, both more fancied opponents.

At this point, if the All Whites were to win their pool and take out the Oceania group they would face Chile to get to the World Cup. Chile are the fifth-placed South American team with 10 of their 18 qualification rounds complete. However, Argentina lie sixth. The prospect of seeing Lionel Messi on these shores next November is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The New Zealanders must successfully negotiate three more pool matches to qualify for the Oceania final.