New Zealand’s All Whites have secure a 2-0 win over Fiji at Westpac Stadium in Wellington to book their place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers – OFC Stage 3 final.
It’s was the perfect end to the group for New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson as his side now turn their attentions to the FIFA Confederations Cup knowing they’re comfortable into the next stage of World Cup Qualifying.
“I’m really pleased,” Hudson said, “it’s a big progression from where we were last year playing against the island teams.
“I think we’re a lot better with the ball, a lot more dominant in possession and the mentality of the group over the two games has been outstanding.”
A brace from Ryan Thomas – who got his first goals in the All Whites shirt to boot – proved enough to see off the Fijians in front of the 10,000 strong crowd.
It was a night of firsts for the All Whites with 17-year-old Dane Ingham getting his first start while brother Jai came in as a second-half substitute to make his own debut.
With the goal of sealing their spot in the final with a professional performance New Zealand started strong, as expected, pressing even higher on their opponents as they did three days earlier in Lautoka.
It forced Fiji to retreat deep into their own half and early on it looked like the All Whites might be able to force similar errors to those made at Churchill Park by the Fijian defence.
The opportunities were flowing for New Zealand with a great early chance for Ryan Thomas blocked by goalkeeper Beniaminio Mateinaqara, and Shane Smeltz at the back post couldn’t quite get his head to it.
Midfielder Clayton Lewis, who put in another mature performance in the centre of the park, had a crack from distance on the stroke of 20 minutes but his testing effort was also saved by Mateinaqara.
However the Fijians couldn’t continue to hold off the All Whites attack and despite packing their penalty area, left Thomas unmarked allowing him to put a tidy finish on a Smeltz cross to open the scoring in the 25th minute.
Mateinaqara was outstanding in his ability to keep New Zealand from taking a greater lead over the Bula Boys, especially considering the memory of his performance in Lautoka would still be fresh.
Thomas Doyle, who spent the evening putting some excellent crosses in for this teammates, was eventually rewarded for his persistence as Thomas got on the end of another top delivery from the Wellington Phoenix defender, flicking it off his forehead past the keeper for his second of the night.
Striker Roy Krishna was Fiji’s best chance at a goal but New Zealand were always quick to isolate him from his teammates, cutting off the options and quite often forcing the turnover.
Christophe Gamel, leading Fiji for just the second time since being appointed coach, was pleased with the effort from his side.
“To be honest I am proud of these boys and their performance. I think you will have seen some improvement and changes,” he said.
“Congratulations to New Zealand, there’s not much you can say there. I think we gave them a tough game because we can manage the ball, I am sure of that, but there is a big gap.”
Captain Krishna was disappointed his side couldn’t hold off the relentless attack of the Kiwis.
“You can’t make any mistakes, you can’t switch off because they will pounce on it,” he said
“They’re a more professional outfit than us, but we stuck to our game plan and we just have to look ahead to the next one.”