The New Zealand All Whites are only a draw away from securing their place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – OFC Stage 3 final after a 2-0 win against a gutsy Fijian side at Churchill Park in Lautoka today.
After being held scoreless in the first half by Fiji, it fell to All Whites captain Chris Wood to open the scoring in the second half when a penalty was awarded following a hand ball in the Fiji box. Only minutes later, complacency from Beniamino Mateinaqara proved costly when Marco Rojas tackled the goalkeeper and placed the ball into the back of the net in the 55th minute.
Rojas nearly got his name on the score sheet in the 33rd when he placed the ball past Mateinaqara after an impressive build up, but a raised flag saw the goal disallowed and the offside call given.
Fiji captain Roy Krishna threatened New Zealand’s goal several times throughout the match, creating countless chances inside the penalty area, but the Kiwi defenders were quick to the ball and made the clearance any time it came near goal.
Impressive saves from Stefan Marinovic also contributed to New Zealand’s clean slate, most notably in the 22nd minute when the goalkeeper made a diving save and only just reached a hand to the ball.
New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson was pleased to see his side get the job done in challenging conditions but would have hoped to see more goals in the All Whites-dominated match.
“When you come to these places it is tough – the conditions, the heat, the humidity – but we’re pleased it was a professional job, really pleased we kept a clean sheet,” he said.
“We know Fiji have some very dangerous players and it was never going to be all one-way traffic so we defended well when we needed to.
“I thought we should have gone one-nil up with the goal that we scored, and I thought that might have changed the course of the first half but it’s about getting the job done, and this has set us up nicely for the second game.”
Fiji coach Christophe Gamel was impressed by his side’s performance against a team full of professional players, but was disappointed to have both goals come as a result of defensive errors.
“I have two words to define this game, disappointment and pride,” he said.
“I’m very proud of the boys because they applied our game, no matter what the score was. They continued to try to play and this is really positive.
“I’m disappointed because the penalty kicked killed the game, but if we make faults we have to accept it. The second goal was from a mistake by the goalkeeper which has happened to professional players.
“I have to focus on the positives. They did well and there were so many people here to support the team. I’m really happy about that.”