An entertaining and hard-fought but ultimately scoreless draw between New Caledonia and New Zealand in Kone has kept the latter firmly in control of Group A in OFC Stage 3 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTM Qualifiers on Tuesday night.
The home side’s need to win after a 2-0 defeat in Auckland on Saturday promoted an open and attacking approach with forwards Georges Gope Fenepej and Cesar Zeoula thriving on the platform laid for them by Cedric Sansot and Joel Wakanume.
It was Zeoula who produced the moment of the game in the 69th minute when he scooped the ball over goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic only to see Bill Tuiloma clear the ball off the goal line with an acrobatic bicycle kick.
Eight minutes later Gope-Fenepej thundered a header over the bar but New Caledonia’s chances to claim all three points nosedived when Bertrand Kai head-butted Ryan Thomas and was sent for an early shower with ten minutes to play.
In a game full of chances, New Zealand’s best came early in the match with skipper Chris Wood drawing a fine save from Thomas Schmidt from a header in the 13th minute and Monty Patterson missing a gilt-edged chance three minutes later.
The impressive Andrew Durante started a move by stepping out defence to intercept a pass then drove into midfield to kick start the attack. The centre back kept going and was on hand when Sansot miscued his clearance to lay off to Patterson who put the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
The draw leaves New Zealand three points clear at the top of Group A and now can seal qualification to the Stage 3 final with another four point haul in the March international window when they face Fiji in two more qualifiers.
“We would’ve liked to have done it tonight obviously,” said New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson, “but there were a lot of positives and it’s a tough place to come.”
“I think we have to credit to New Caledonia. I’m very vocal about saying we want to win every game but from the beginning we said we wanted a minimum of four points in the window. We would’ve liked to kill the game off by taking our chances earlier in the game.”
New Caledonia coach Thierry Sardo had mixed feelings after a result that is significant in the context of recent history against the All Whites but leaves their World Cup dreams hanging by the finest of threads.
“We were happy that we were able to take a point against New Zealand but we didn’t get the points we needed. We were strong at the back and showed a lot going forward and normally a point against New Zealand is a good result,” said Sardo.
“We’ll wait for the results in the next window but if New Zealand beat Fiji it’s over for us. “
OFC qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia takes a break until March with Papua New Guinea and Fiji entering the fray against Tahiti and New Zealand respectively.