New Zealand – New Caledonia: the Whites ready for the semi-final of the World Cup qualifiers
The All Whites kicked into high gear in Oceania World Cup qualifying but still have plenty of gas in the tank ahead of their semi-final against Tahiti.
A 7-1 win over New Caledonia was added to their 4-0 win over Fiji and 1-0 over Papua New Guinea on Friday [NZ time] as they finished top of Group B at the eight-team tournament in Qatar.
Now comes the challenge of three straight knockout matches, starting with the semi-final against Tahiti [kickoff Monday 6.30am NZ time]whom New Zealand have not played against since October 2012.
If they win that, they will next face Solomon Islands, who topped Group A, or second-placed Papua New Guinea in Group B, in the final. [kickoff Thursday 6am NZ time] to decide who will qualify for the Intercontinental Playoffs in June.
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All Whites manager Danny Hay made seven changes between Game 1 and Game 2, then nine between Game 2 and Game 3, with a semi-final berth already secured, and there likely will be at least eight more heading into the round of 16.
The 20 outfielders currently in Doha have now had a run, with Joe Bell, Liberato Cacace and Bill Tuiloma playing the final 19 minutes against New Caledonia after arriving at camp earlier this week.
The Cagous crumbled in the final 20 minutes, conceding four late goals to crumble to a six-goal loss in what made it the All Whites’ biggest win since beating Tahiti 10-0 in the Cup Nations of Oceania in 2004.
This scoreline is unlikely to be repeated when the two teams meet at the Grand Hamad Stadium in the semi-finals, but the All Whites will be complete, or close, for the first time in qualifying, and will be looking to step up to another level.
Prior to the match against New Caledonia, Hay had indicated that he had a good idea of their semi-final line-up and worked from that to select the squad for the final game of the group stage.
As a result, three players were ruled out of Matchday 23 entirely – Nando Pijnaker and Elijah Just, who were both one yellow card away from a one-game ban, and captain Winston Reid, who is without a club and does not did not play. since the January international window.
But after the emphatic victory for what was largely a second-string formation – bolstered by a strong set of substitutes, including Chris Wood, who joined starter Alex Greive in securing a brace – Hay said he had food for thought. .
“I told them just before the game that I wanted to sit down with [assistant coach] Darren Bazeley tonight with some serious headaches about what that semi-final starting XI will look like and I think we have that.
“It’s symptomatic of the depth and quality of players we have in our squad. It’s great that we had the opportunity to give everyone a few meaningful minutes to show what they are capable of.
“At the end of the day, we want to be back in this part of the world in November and December and you can only choose a limited number of players to go to a World Cup, which is why players have to do their best when they get the chance.”
Jamie Searle became New Zealand’s fourth debutant in the tournament when he started and played 90 minutes in goal, which could prove invaluable preparation if Stefan Marinovic, the likely semi-final starter, were to be replaced.
Greive is probably the player who pushed hardest to be included in the semi-final XI, scoring either side of a Logan Rogerson penalty to give the All Whites a 3-1 half-time lead. they never seemed to give up.
The top team from Oceania will face the fourth team from North and Central America and the Caribbean in June’s unique qualifiers for a World Cup spot.
Oceania World Cup Qualifying Tournament – Semi-Finals
The New Zealand Two Hours
Monday, 6:30 a.m.: All Whites vs. Tahiti
Monday, 3 a.m.: Solomon Islands vs. Papua New Guinea
Both at Grand Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
The winners will meet in the final on Thursday at 6am NZ time for a spot in the June Intercontinental Qualifiers