The All Whites have continued their winning run in stage three of 2014 World Cup qualifying, but only just, with a 2-0 win over Tahiti tonight.
Shane Smeltz’s 24th minute goal, a simple finish from four metres out, was all that separated New Zealand from Tahiti for the vast majority of the game.
It was only when defender Ben Sigmund added a second less than 10-minutes from time that New Zealand were able to relax into the match.
Tahiti, who are winless after three games of a four-team group phase, now have no hope making the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For the All Whites it was a very important victory, maintaining a three-point lead in the Oceania round-robin over New Caledonia, after they thumped the Solomon Islands 6-2.
With three games remaining to find the group winner – who will advance to a two-legged inter-continental playoff for a place in Brazil – New Zealand face Tahiti again in Christchurch on Tuesday night in another must-win game.
Midfielder Tim Payne will be unavailable for that match, however, suspended after collecting his second yellow card of the group phase.
Taking the trip to Papeete without Premier League defensive duo Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid, Ricki Herbert was forced to re-jig his usual three-man defence into a revised 4-3-3 formation.
Herbert also had to contend with goalkeeper Mark Paston being ruled out before kick-off, after he developed a foot infection upon arrival in the Pacific.
With Glen Moss taking the gloves and Tommy Smith assuming the captaincy from the absent Nelsen, the All Whites were challenged to a physical and tight encounter.
The All Whites deserved the points, but only had themselves to blame for allowing Tahiti to stay within touching distance for 80 minutes.
Chris Wood and Chris Killen both had decent chances but couldn’t convert.
When Sigmund’s 82nd minute header from the edge of the six-yard box doubled New Zealand’s lead it was welcome relief for Herbert’s side.
But that relief evaporated almost immediately when Smith had to clear off his own goal line, hacking away a close-range Axel Williams shot.
Having arrived in New Zealand over the last 48 hours, both Nelsen and Reid should slot back into the team in time for Tuesday’s return game in Christchurch. Kick-off is at 7.35pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which team will win the 2013/14 Champions League?