Herbert 'proud' after draw with Solomons
The All Whites' unconvincing Oceania Nations Cup campaign will face another stern test tomorrow with a semifinal against in-form New Caledonia.
New Zealand topped group B on seven points after drawing 1-1 with tournament hosts Solomon Islands in the final pool match in Honiara yesterday.
The game followed a similar pattern to the previous 1-0 and 2-1 wins over Fiji and Papua New Guinea with the All Whites scoring early but failing to kill off their lowly opposition.
Benjamin Totori capped an outstanding match with a wonderful second-half equaliser yesterday, the former Manawatu and Waitakere United livewire cancelling out Chris Wood's early strike and sending the big home crowd at Lawson Tama Stadium into delirium.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert made nine changes to his starting lineup and afterwards said he was "proud" of the way his young players "dug deep" in the heat.
"We exposed a whole new team to arguably the toughest team in the tournament."
But understrength or not, it is a concern that New Zealand have been unable to adapt to the hot and humid conditions or maintain possession for long periods.
Senior pros Ben Sigmund, Ivan Vicelich, Michael McGlinchey, Chris Killen and Shane Smeltz were all rested yesterday and will return fresh for tomorrow's semifinal as the All Whites aim to defend their title and qualify for next year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
New Caledonia finished second in group A but were unlucky in their upset 4-3 loss to Tahiti.
Many observers in Honiara believed New Caledonia were hard done by having two players sent off in that match, and the Pacific Games champions won their other two games easily.
New Caledonia tuned up for the semifinals by thrashing Samoa 9-0 on Tuesday, with striker Jacques Haeko scoring five goals.
Before that was a 5-2 romp over Vanuatu where another dangerous striker, Pacific Games golden boot winner Bertrand Kai, scored a hat-trick.
Tahiti play the Solomons in tomorrow's other semifinal.
New Zealand's first-choice goalkeeper Mark Paston has been ruled out of the tournament after suffering concussion in the opening game, with Michael O'Keeffe called in as cover.
But Herbert will choose between incumbent Jake Gleeson – who has mixed good saves with some anxious moments – and Glen Moss (yet to play a game as he recovers from his torn adductor) for tomorrow.
Herbert is likely to pair Wood and Smeltz together up front with both strikers in good form.
Wood's goal yesterday was a classy effort, chesting down a Leo Bertos cross before swivelling and lashing a volley.
New Zealand 1 (Chris Wood 14) Solomon Islands 1 (Benjamin Totori 57) at Lawson Tama Stadium. Semifinals tomorrow: Tahiti v Solomon Islands (midday NZ time); New Zealand v New Caledonia (4pm)
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