All Whites defeat Fiji to advance in World Cup qualifying
Ryan Thomas' first two international goals have sent the All Whites through to the next stage of World Cup qualifying.
The midfielder scored midway through either half as New Zealand beat Fiji 2-0 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Tuesday.
It was a match the All Whites should have won by more, but a lack of quality with their final ball let them down.
They relied heavily on getting the ball out wide for their wing backs to whip crosses in, but only two really found their mark as Tommy Smith rattled the crossbar in the first half and Thomas scored with his head in the 68th minute.
The few times they did attack down the middle they produced good chances.
Clayton Lewis forced a good save from Fiji goalkeeper Beniamino Mateinaqara early in the first half, before Thomas received a layoff from Shane Smeltz in the 27th minute, which he slotted with a great first-time finish to the bottom-left corner.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson said it was a case of Fiji putting a lot of bodies behind the ball.
"Whenever we tried to play through them or put a cross in there was a load of bodies in there, so I think if you play against bigger teams they come out a bit more.
"Over the two games it's been difficult to really carve them open. The key for us was to be patient over both legs and really the key was to try and control the game in possession, but it's like every tour we go on.
"It's not like we get on tour and just look at what we're good at, every time we get together we always want to improve what we're doing and definitely in the final third it's an area we want to keep tweaking and finding solutions for, but there were several opportunities where we could have scored some very good goals.
"There were some very good moves, especially in the first half were Ryan was involved in one of them, so I think they're unlucky tonight to not get a few more."
Thomas would've been a deserved man of the match for his two great finishes, although he admitted after the game even he was surprised he managed to bag a brace.
"I don't score two goals very often in a game. I was pleased to get my first and then grab a second after what was a great move.
"That was good and the way we controlled the game from start to finish was quality, over the two legs it was very professional performance."
Aside from the final third, New Zealand were dominant in all other aspects of the game.
Their passing leading up to the final third was excellent, allowing Thomas and fellow central midfielder Lewis to receive the ball high up the pitch, especially in the first half.
That allowed them to link well with either the attacking duo of Marco Rojas and Smeltz, or play wide to marauding wing backs Dane Ingham and Doyle.
But that was normally where the play broke down as the big Fijian backline dealt with most of the crosses well.
The 17-year-old, Australian-born Ingham was on debut, and shared a special moment with his older brother, Jai, when the latter came off the bench in the second half to also make his All Whites debut. They qualify for New Zealand through their Kiwi mother, who was at the game.
At the other end, Fiji offered very little.
Wellington Phoenix striker Roy Krishna tried his best to spark something, but was a lone ranger for most of the night.
New Zealand centre backs Smith, Andrew Durante and Michael Boxall defended well, as did their team-mates ahead of them as they pressed Fiji high up the field, causing the visitors to make countless mistakes in possession.
Smeltz, who started the match after captain Chris Wood returned to the United Kingdom early due to injury, had a goal ruled out late for offside after Mateinaqara spilled an innocuous cross into his path.
That summed up New Zealand's two matches against Fiji, including the 2-0 win in Lautoka on Saturday, where they got the job done, but could have been a lot better in front of goal, especially in their home conditions where a crowd of 10,133 cheered them on.
For Hudson, he was happy with the progression his team had shown.
"Overall, really, really pleasing, it's been a good solid tour for us and one we can build on.
"It's a big, big progression from where we were last year when we played against the Oceania teams. We were a lot better with the ball, a lot more dominant in possession and the work ethic of the team has been very good across both games."
New Zealand have won group A of the third stage of Oceania World Cup Qualifying with Tuesday's win. Stage four will see them play the winner of group B, which Tahiti currently leads ahead of their crucial match against Papua New Guinea on Wednesday (NZ time).
New Zealand 2 (Ryan Thomas 27' 68') Fiji 0. HT: 1-0.