The All Whites line up against Fiji for the second time in just three days at Westpac Stadium in Wellington tonight as their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign rolls on.

After having won 2-0 against tonight's opponents in Lautoka on Saturday, the Chris Wood-captained side are now just one point away from taking another step closer to football's global showpiece in Russia next year.

A draw in the capital will be enough to see the All Whites through to the OFC qualifying final later this year.

Alex McLeod takes a look at how the national side got to where they are now, and what is up next for the two-time World Cup qualifiers en route to Russia 2018.


How they got to this stage:

The All Whites' 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification process began in May last year, where they took part in the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, which doubled as the OFC second qualifying round for the World Cup.

The All Whites qualified for the tournament automatically as one of the seven highest-ranked FIFA members in the Oceania region, ranked the highest of all the OFC entrants at 136th.

Drawn alongside Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in Group B, New Zealand cruised through pool play with ease, winning 3-1, 5-0, and 1-0 to qualify for the semi-finals undefeated.

After beating New Caledonia 1-0 thanks to a Chris Wood goal, the All Whites went the distance in their final against hosts Papua New Guinea, going to a penalty shootout after drawing 0-0 at the end of extra-time.

Penalties to Rory Fallon, Michael McGlinchey, Moses Dyer, and Marco Rojas were enough to seal the All Whites' first OFC Nations Cup title since 2008, and in doing so, they booked their place in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.

The All Whites celebrate winning the 2016 OFC Nations Cup. Photo / Photosport.
The All Whites celebrate winning the 2016 OFC Nations Cup. Photo / Photosport.

By virtue of finishing in the top three of their group at the OFC Nations Cup, the All Whites also qualified for the OFC third qualifying round, the stage of the World Cup qualifying process they currently find themselves in.

Here they were drawn into Group A alongside New Caledonia and Fiji, and were scheduled to play both sides twice on a home-and-away basis.

They secured a 2-0 win against New Caledonia at QBE Stadium in Albany back in November via a double from Rojas, before drawing 0-0 in the away leg in Koné three days later.

Their World Cup qualifying progress paused for four months, resuming again last Saturday, where Rojas and Wood both scored to give the All Whites a 2-0 win and put them in the position they are currently in ahead of tonight's clash.

What happens next:

A result as minimal as a draw tonight will be enough for the All Whites to secure progression from their group, as one point would see them extend their lead over both New Caledonia and Fiji to seven points, an unassailable lead with just two matches remaining for both sides.

However, as any football fan will tell you, anything can happen in a game of football, and the prospect of Fiji pulling off a miracle win against the All Whites is by no means out of the question.

Should the Bula Boys pull off a miraculous victory tonight, Group A of the OFC third round qualification will be blown wide open.

If that result did play out, the All Whites would remain in first place with no games remaining, while the Fiji and New Caledonia would trail by three and five points respectively with their home-and-away legs against each other still to play.

The best possible result for the All Whites in that scenario would be two draws across both legs between their group rivals, which would be enough to see them through to the OFC qualifying final later this year.

The OFC qualifying final, to be held across two legs in August and September, will be between the two OFC third round qualification group winners, who - providing the standings remain the same between now and then - will be between the All Whites and Tahiti.

The Tahitians are in a similar position to the All Whites at the moment and seem the likely team to qualify from Group B, although the Solomon Islands, with two matches remaining, could still make a late push when they play Papua New Guinea in June.

Should Tahiti defeat the Papua New Guineans in their clash tonight, however, they would stand in good stead to face the All Whites later in the year.

In the likely event of the All Whites qualifying for and winning the qualifying final, the New Zealanders would move onto the last and most important part of their World Cup qualifying campaign - the inter-confederation play-offs.

As FIFA does not allocate the OFC with an automatic qualifying spot into the World Cup, the winners of the OFC qualifying campaign then has to face off against a nation from another continent over two legs in order to qualify for next year's tournament.

This is a stage of the World Cup qualifying campaign the All Whites are familiar with.

In 2009, they famously defeated Bahrain - the fifth-placed side in the Asian qualifying campaign - to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and in 2013, they crumbled to the might of Mexico - the fourth-placed side in the North/Central American qualifying process.

The All Whites celebrate after defeating Bahrain in the inter-confederation playoffs in Wellington in 2009. Photo / Getty Images.
The All Whites celebrate after defeating Bahrain in the inter-confederation playoffs in Wellington in 2009. Photo / Getty Images.

This year, they face the daunting task of having to defeat the fifth-placed side from the South American qualifying campaign across two legs to qualify for Russia 2018.

Currently, the fifth-placed side in South America with five games remaining is Ecuador with 20 points.

That could change drastically over the course of the next five games in the South American qualifying campaign, however, as just five points separates second-placed Uruguay from seventh-placed Paraguay.

In between them lies Argentina, Colombia and Chile, all nations that the All Whites could easily face in the inter-confederation play-offs in November.

Nevertheless, those play-offs are still eight months away, and the thought of having to defeat the likes of James Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi will be distant in the minds of Anthony Hudson and his All Whites side, who will all be solely focused on just defeating Fiji tonight and moving onto the OFC qualifying final.

3-1 win vs Fiji (OFC Nations Cup)
5-0 win vs Vanuatu (OFC Nations Cup)
1-0 win vs Solomon Islands (OFC Nations Cup)
1-0 win vs New Caledonia (OFC Nations Cup)
0-0 draw (won on penalties 4-2) vs Papua New Guinea (OFC Nations Cup)
2-0 win vs New Caledonia (OFC third round qualification)
0-0 draw vs New Caledonia (OFC third round qualification)

2-0 win vs Fiji (OFC third round qualification)

vs Fiji in Wellington, 28 March (OFC third round qualification)
- FIFA Confederations Cup (vs Russia, Mexico, Portugal) in Russia, 17-24 June
- OFC qualifying final (vs OFC third round qualifying Group B winner), 28 August-5 September
- FIFA Inter-Confederation play-offs (vs fifth-placed South American side), 6-14 November