A goal in each half from Marco Rojas has fired New Zealand to a 2-0 win over New Caledonia in the opening Group A match of OFC Stage 3 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTM Qualifiers in Auckland on Saturday.
The Melbourne Victory forward netted from close range in the 42nd and 72nd minutes as Oceania Champions New Zealand now take an three point lead in Group A heading into the return encounter with Les Cagous in Kone on Tuesday.
New Zealand dominated the match in large patches and were good value for their first half lead, having been denied twice by the woodwork – first Chris Wood then Kosta Barbarouses – before Rojas finally broke the deadlock.
Short passing between Rojas and Wood in the New Caledonia area unlocked the defence and while Rojas’ shot was partially blocked by a defender it still had enough on it to beat goalkeeper Thomas Schmidt.
Rojas’ second – his third in as many games for the All Whites – was again set up by his captain with an improvised back heel from Wood off Monty Patterson’s low cross left Rojas with a free tap in at the back post.
It took some time for New Caledonia to get a foothold in the match but once they did they enjoyed some sustained moments of pressure. Their start to the second half was especially bright and Cesar Zeoula almost equalised just two minutes in, but instead headed just over the crossbar.
New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson was satisfied to claim the win in what was his first match on home soil and warned his side would get better
“It was a good win, solid win, and a good start to the qualification campaign. We had many chances and kept a clean sheet. We can do so much better but we’re very happy with today. “
“We know these games are very tricky and they’ve got some dangerous players. I think we didn’t start so well so we made a few changes and I think that helped us. I think overall the players have done a great job in difficult conditions against a tricky team.”
New Caledonia coach Thierry Sardo thought his side competed well for most of the match but acknowledged the second goal took the match away from his side.
“We were not too bad in the beginning of the second half but when they put the second goal, we had a big headache,” he said.
“We had two opportunities to put a good goal away, Kayara’s and Cesar Zeoula’s, but sadly they couldn’t hit the target.”
Sardo saw enough in his side’s performance to give him confidence heading back to home soli for Tuesday afternoon’s match.
“Of course we hope to win back home. Today we have shown that we can get a good result in New Caledonia”
Tomorrow, Tahiti and Solomon Islands meet again in Group A, this time in Honiara. Tahiti lead the group after their 1-0 win in Papeete on Monday night.