The All Whites have drawn 1-1 with the Solomon Islands in their final Oceania Nations Cup match today in Honiara but still top their group ahead of the semifinals.
As Group B winners they will face New Caledonia in the semifinals on Friday.
Chris Wood put the All Whites up 1-0 in the 14th minute, while Benjamin Totori equalised by for the home side in the 57th minute in a match with few clear-cut scoring opportunities.
The All Whites, who rested several key players, had the better of the first half and were rewarded with the lead when Wood finished on the turn after Leo Bertos picked him out with a cross from the right.
The Solomon Islands, spurred on by a vocal home crowd in Honiara, came out firing after the break and began to exert pressure on the All Whites.
Totori, who plays for Waitakere City in New Zealand, looked the likeliest and he sent the home crowd into raptures with a brilliant individual goal to draw the Solomon Islands level.
He went close to snatching a winner for his side in added time but his shot flashed just wide.
New Zealand, entered the last Group B match unbeaten and with its semifinals place already secured.
So All Whites coach Ricki Herbert rang the changes to his line up, handing an opportunity to a host of younger players, seven off them with less than a 10 caps to their name so far.
Ivan Vicelich, Mike McGlinchey, Chris Killen, Shane Smeltz and Ben Sigmund were left off the team sheet altogether and the suspended Tony Lochhead is another senior player who will be refreshed for Friday.
"We exposed a whole new team to arguably the toughest team in the tournament," said Herbert.
"It was great for them to get that level of exposure and at times it was really tough for them."
"We rested a whole lot of players today and there's a lot of tired young ones going away today with a good reflection on international football. It's not easy coming to the islands but they've done us proud and retained that top spot."
The Solomon Islands faced uncertainty at the start of the final day of pool play but were able to relax when Fiji was held to a 1-1 draw by Papua New Guinea.
Fiji needed to win to have any chance of displacing the host nation in the final four.
The winner of the OFC Nations Cup qualifies for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup while the four semifinalists all progress to stage three of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying a round robin played in September, October and March.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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