The All Whites enjoyed a 2-0 victory in Dubai on Wednesday morning against The Gambia, to make it three from three since returning from their COVID-19 enforced international hiatus in October.
Chris Wood scored both goals, moving the Burnley striker to within two goals of matching all-time New Zealand men’s top scorer Vaughan Coveny on 29.
The win marked the first time the team had won three games in a row against non-OFC opposition since 1985, as the momentum from the Olympic campaign continued to build.
Danny Hay’s team saw major changes from the weekend’s warm-up game against Algeria A. Only Nando Pijnaker and Marko Stamenic were retained as Stefan Marinovic, Liberato Cacace, Niko Kirwan, Joe Bell, Sarpreet Singh, Joe Champness, Elijah Just, Chris Wood and, most surprisingly, captain Winston Reid came in.
Reid wasn’t originally named in the squad for the games but travelled to train and mentor the team. Hay was so impressed by Reid’s condition he felt he was ready to return to action.
After dominating the opening quarter of the game, the All Whites took the lead in the 36th minute. A Sarpreet Singh corner was cleared to Joe Bell on the edge of the box. Bell’s shot deflected to Chris Wood who manged to backheel it into the net from close range.
The West African side improved after the break but struggled to get beyond a solid Kiwi defence.
The killer blow came in the 64th minute as Chris Wood got his second. A pinpoint pass from Sarpreet Singh cut through the defence to leave Wood one-on-one with the keeper.
“Obviously really happy with the results over the last couple of windows. You add to that what the vast majority of these players did at the Olympics and it’s been a pretty good year after such a long hiatus due to Covid,” head coach Danny Hay said.
“We’re excited with the progress we’ve made and are looking forward to what next year brings for us.”
Winston Reid (58’ Michael Boxall)
Liberato Cacace (90+4’ Francis de Vries)
Niko Kirwan (82’ Kelvin Kalua)
Joe Bell (90’ Callum McCowatt)
Joe Champness (70’ Tommy Smith)
Elijah Just (70’ Matthew Garbett)