23 Mar 2013

All Whites beat New Caledonia to go a step closer to World Cup

3:33 pm on 23 March 2013

A Tommy Smith header deep into injury time has given New Zealand a heart-stopping 2-1 win over New Caledonia to fire the All Whites into an intercontinental playoff for a place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The All Whites are just 180 minutes away from representing Oceania at successive FIFA World Cups but were made to battle for over 90 minutes against a New Caledonia side that refused to play the role of happy-go-lucky underdog.

Cesar Lolohea's 56th minute strike - cancelled out Chris Killen's powerful 10th minute headed opener.

New Zealand rode its luck but cursed it at times with both Smith and Chris Wood denied by the woodwork, while New Caledonian 'keeper Rocky Nyikeine was inspired in goal to keep the visitors in touch.

The All Whites had a strong claim for a penalty turned down as regular time expired, when Shane Smeltz emerged bloodied from an attempt to head in a winner after coming off second best to a raised boot.

Smeltz's facial laceration required 18 stitches afterwards.

But with the crowd growing increasingly nervous, new captain Winston Reid headed a Kosta Barbarouses free kick back towards goal for Smith to create a moment of magic.

The All Whites will now contemplate changes to their squad for the dead rubber match with the Solomon Islands in Honiara on Tuesday, which kicks off at 5pm NZT.

Looking ahead, November brings the home-and-away playoff with an as yet unknown opponent.