New Zealand will be Oceania's representatives in the playoff with the fifth-best in Asia for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Two second-half goals from in-form Wellington Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz lifted the Kiwis to victory against New Caledonia in Noumea on Saturday, and they can now face their return fixture on Wednesday in a relaxed frame of mind. In the other fixture, Vanuatu will be looking to finish their qualifying adventure with a first win.
Although they are now out of contention for a FIFA World Cup playoff spot, Didier Chambaron's New Caledonia side will be looking to finish their campaign on a high note, to prove that their top 100 ranking is well-deserved. Les Cagous certainly caused the Kiwis problems in Noumea, and Michel Hmae's equalising goal was generally recognised as one of the finest of the qualifying series.
For New Zealand, the game represents a chance to honour the late Charlie Dempsey, former president of the Oceania Football Confederation, who contributed so much to the development of football in the region. "We will observe a minute's silence before the game. This is the chance to honour him, and his efforts for our game in this part of the world," announced New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum. The New Zealand players, clad in black, will wear white armbands in tribute to Dempsey.
A campaign that began so promisingly for Vanuatu, with a near-miss against New Zealand in the opening game, has ended in disappointment. The Vanuatans have only a single point, from a draw against New Caledonia in June, to show for their efforts. A home match against Fiji represents the perfect opportunity for Aad de Mos's men to re-establish their credentials in the region.
Fiji, for their part, will be without New Zealand-based midfielder Salesh Kumar, who scored their opening goal against the Vanuatans on Saturday. The Auckland City man, however, is confident that his team can overcome Vanuatu again in his absence. "If we can continue playing as a team, then surely the boys will win in Vanuatu," said Kumar, who was impressed by the contributions of the younger players on Saturday. "They did well considering that playing at national level is new to them. It’s a big transition to go from district level to playing for the national team, and I’m sure with more games they’ll be able to find their feet."