All Whites seal semifinal spot at Nations Cup
TONY SMITH AND SAM WORTHINGTON
The All Whites have qualified for the Oceania Nations Cup football semifinals but will be without veteran defender Tony Lochhead for tomorrow's pool-play finale against the Solomon Islands after a double caution controversy in Honiara yesterday.
Lochhead received two yellow cards – the second in the 88th minute after conceding the penalty for Papua New Guinea's goal in the All Whites' 2-1 victory.
That would usually mean instant dismissal but Vanuatu referee Bruce George failed to brandish the red card.
Oceania Football Confederation officials later confirmed the two cautions, a retrospective red card and a one-match suspension pending a review by Fifa.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has adequate cover for Lochhead in Auckland City's Ian Hogg who scored a superb solo goal on debut against El Salvador in Houston, Texas last week.
Herbert was happy to grind out another victory yesterday in 39 degrees Celsius heat and sapping humidity rated by goalscorer Chris Wood as more gruelling than the conditions during last Friday's 1-0 win over Fiji.
"We started well, got a good early goal [to Shane Smeltz], which has been a trait of what we've done in this tournament," Herbert said.
"But it's tough going and hard to get through the 90 minutes, but again we can just recover and reorganise. We've got six points from six and we can move now into the game on Wednesday.
"I think it's natural that we'll acclimatise more as we progress, and that patch of dominance will extend for longer. Today was another draining one and you don't get much of a turnaround before the next one. With the next kickoff at 3pm maybe that may be a little kinder on us."
The All Whites lead their pool – two points ahead of the Solomons who were held to a 0-0 draw yesterday by Fiji.
The host nation – who will be backed by more than 20,000 fans – could still win Group B and take top seeding for Friday's semifinals if they beat New Zealand.
Smeltz opened the scoring after just three minutes as PNG's defence allowed the prolific striker too much space in the penalty box. Jeremy Brockie – who started on the right of midfield ahead of Leo Bertos – whipped in a cross and Smeltz connected for a header.
It was Smeltz's 19th international goal. The duo also combined for the goal in last week's 1-0 win over Honduras.
Poor defending from the All Whites twice allowed PNG players free headers from corners but Frank Farina's men were not able to hit the target.
Smeltz turned provider as New Zealand scored their second on the counter-attack in the 53rd minute, receiving a Michael McGlinchey pass and crossing for Wood who finished off coolly.
"Smeltzy showed great vision to get the ball across to me, first time," said Wood, who was "just happy to put it in the back of the net, that's what I'm there to do".
Neil Hans scored for PNG from the penalty spot after Lochhead's handball. Herbert made three changes to the starting XI that beat Fiji. Jake Gleeson made superb saves in place of Mark Paston, who suffered a head knock on Saturday. Brockie and Wood came in for Bertos and Marco Rojas.
Group B: New Zealand 2 (Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood) Papua New Guinea 1 (pen). HT: 1-0. Fiji 0 Solomon Islands 0. Points: NZ 6, Solomon Islands 4, Fiji 1, PNG 0.
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