All Whites accomplish mission
Coach Ricki Herbert is looking at maintaining continuity rather experimenting as the All Whites prepare for their football rematch with New Caledonia in Auckland on Wednesday.
New Zealand wrapped up the Oceania stage of World Cup qualifying last night via a 3-1 victory over Les Cagous in Noumea, with striker Shane Smeltz continuing his hot streak with two more goals.
The result earned the All Whites a place in the lucrative Confederations Cup in South Africa next June, when other teams taking part will include Brazil, Italy and European champions Spain.
More importantly, they have also reached the final phase of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals, and done it with two matches to spare.
Late next year, they will meet the fifth-ranked Asian nation in a home-and-way showdown for a spot in football's most prestigious tournament.
Herbert said there were unlikely to be major changes to his starting 11 for the return fixture with New Caledonia at North Harbour Stadium, even if the result was now of little consequence.
"From our point of view, we've got a very, very strong obligation to come back into the country and continue things moving forward," he said.
With the All Whites having been crowned Oceania champions, Herbert said planning could start in earnest for both the Confederations Cup and the final World Cup hurdle.
A member of the only New Zealand side to make the World Cup finals, in Spain 26 years ago, Herbert said he began dreaming about a return when was assumed his present job in 2005.
"I think nobody was as proud as I was to play in the World Cup in 1982, and I could be just 180 minutes from realising that again as coach," he said.
"You let yourself dream about it. I did when I was appointed."
In 30degC heat at Stade Numa-Daly Magenta last night, Ben Sigmund put the All Whites ahead in the 16th minute, toe-poking home from a corner.
The visitors dominated the opening half and had further opportunities to go ahead.
New Caledonia lifted their effort early in the second spell and finally brought the sparse crowd alight in the 55th minute with a flowing move.
Marius Mapou's through ball split the defence and Hmae rifled the ball home in clinical fashion.
The All Whites hit the front again in the 66th minute, when Smeltz made no mistake from close range.
The Wellington Phoenix forward, who missed the birth of his second child on Friday because of All White duty, celebrated with a fine second goal in the 76th minute.
He slipped his marker on the edge of the box before burying the ball in the net.
Smeltz, 26, has now grabbed eight goals in the All Whites' past five internationals, beginning with his double in the 2-2 draw with Wales in Wrexham in May last year.
In all, he has scored nine times in his 20 All White appearances.
Apart from the confidence he gained from each goal, he didn't have any real explanation for his recent ability to find the net.
"I didn't go out there telling myself I had to score," he said.
"It was just one of those things that comes along. It was nice to grab two. It was everybody's aim to get the job done and we're over the moon to achieve it."
The All Whites complete their Oceania programme with a fixture against Fiji in Lautoka on November 19.