All Whites stunned 2-0 by New Caledonia
The All Whites have suffered a $1.3m blow - crashing out of the Oceania Nations Cup tournament after a shock 2-0 upset loss to New Caledonia in the worst result of Ricki Herbert's eight-year coaching reign.
New Zealand's failure in the heat of Honiara means New Caledonia and Tahiti will meet in Sunday's tournament final with the winner set to earn a $US1m payday at the 2013 Confederations Cup finals tournament in Brazil.
This was undoubtedly All Whites' worst result since 2004 when they lost 4-2 to Vanuatu and failed to make the ONC tournament final in Adelaide.
It was the All Whites' first loss to New Caledonia in almost 36 years - since a 2-1 loss in Noumea in October 1976.
The All Whites - all fulltime professionals - were very disappointing but New Caledonia totally deserved their win which must inspire all Oceania nations that the gap between them and region heavyweights New Zealand has been closed.
The first goal at Lawson Tama Stadium came in the 60th minute when the New Zealand defence was caught napping on the counter. New Caledonian striker Jacques Haeko beat All Whites defenders Ivan Vicelich and Tommy Smith to the ball and flicked it through to Bertrand Kai, who clipped it with the outside of his right foot past Kiwi keeper Jake Gleeson.
The killer bow came in the second minute of injury time when Georges Gope-Fenepej netted the second goal after brilliant approach work by Iamel Kabeu.
New Zealand's defeat means a Pacific Islands nation will represent Oceania at the Confederations Cup finals for the first time. The Australia-New Zealand duopoly has been broken for the first time since the Confederations finals format was introduced in 1997
New Caledonia had the more clearcut chances in an even open first quarter with Haeko crashing a scorching shot against the All Whites' near upright in the ninth minute. Kai later flashed a right-foot volley by the near post.
The first quarter was an even and open affair with the All Whites channeling most of their attacks down Leo Bertos' right flank. The Wellington Phoenix stalwart showed some nice touches but let down his approach work with disappointing delivery to his strikers
Midfield playmaker Michael McGlinchey was more clinical, finding Kosta Barbarouses with a pinpoint cross. But the Russia-based All Whites striker could not get any power behind his header and the ball ended up in grateful goalkeeper Rocky Nyikeine.
The All Whites began to exert some dominance after the first drinks break at the 27-minute mark. A goalmouth scramble ensued after McGlinchey's left wing corner but the New Zealanders could not capitalise on the New Caledonians' confusion.
Shane Smeltz should have scored his 20th international goal in the 37th minute after Tony Lochhead's left-wing cross. But the Perth Glory marksman - normally so deadly in the air - was well astray with a free header.
New Zealand should have gone a goal down in the 40th minute when Georges Gope-Fenepej hurtled down the left flank and fired over a superb cross to an unmarked Hakeo at the back post. But the New Caledonian striker dithered and shaped to chest the ball down rather than bury his header.
Defensive midfielder Chris Killen came to the Kiwis' rescue, clearing the ball off the line after Haeko challenged Jake Gleeson to Judikael Ixoee's long throw and flicked a back-header over the All Whites' keeper.
Maruis Bako hit a high, wide and not-so-handsome shot into orbit over the All Whites' bar after more slick work by Gope-Fenepej in injury-time.
But the first-half statistcs underlined New Caledonian's dominance in the attacking third of the pitch. They had eight shots to the All Whites' three - with two on target.
New Caledonia coach Alain Moizan said in a halftime television interview he wanted his team to play at a fast pace to test the All Whites endurance. He was proud of the chances New Zealand had created but lamented the fact they had not converted them into a goal.
All Whites assistant-coach Neil Emblen felt there had been chances at both ends and acknowledged Smeltz "should have scored'' from Lochhead's cross. He said the key was to score the first goal and then close the game out because "it was another tough game out there for the boys''.
New Zealand started the second half more brightly but again failed to capitalise when Bertos delivered a good freekick in the 58th minute to tall targetman Chris Wood but the 1.91m West Bromwich Albion striker could only direct his header straight at Nyikeine.
It proved a costly miss when Kai made them pay two minutes later.
Herbert brought on Jeremy Brockie and Marco Rojas in a bid to inject more pace. Brockie's long throw in the 66th minute created mayhem in the New Caledonian defence and McGlinchey slammed a shot against the bar, with Killen heading the rebound wide.
Bertos - substituted soon after the New Caledonian goal - will miss the third-place playoff after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half, incurring an automatic one-match suspension.
Nyikeine, the 20-year-old keeper, made a great one-handed save after Barbarouses tied the defence in knots.
Kai could have nicked a second goal but was given off-side in a marginal decision.
The All Whites tried to pepper Nyikeine, but the inexperienced keeper held firm, McGlinchey could not find four teammates, including with a cross from the right-hand edge of the box.
Instead it was Gope-Fenepej who struck and he could have added a third, sliding a late shot past the New Zealand post.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert conceded New Caledonia were "the better side of the day'' and described the result as "a travesty''.
He said he and his team had "never been this disappointed before''.
"But we haven't played well at this tournament. Give some credit to these guys [New Caledonia], they worked hard,'' a disconsolate Herbert said on Oceania Football TV.
Herbert said the All Whites had their chances, "but you've got to put them in the back of the net and we weren't good enough to do that.
He thought the 2-0 margin was "a fair reflection'' of "the total 90 minutes''.
New Caledonia coach Alain Moizan, a former French international and ex-coach of Mali, was exuberant at the upset over New Zealand, "the big team of the Pacific''.
- © Fairfax NZ News