Tommy Smith is the toast of New Zealand after his dramatic 94th-minute goal sent the All Whites through to a play-off for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
The Ipswich Town defender’s injury-time winner secured a 2-1 victory over New Caledonia in Dunedin’s Foryth Barr Stadium, which guarantees his team top spot in Oceania with a game to spare.
It had seemed for much of the second half that Ricki Herbert’s side would be taken to a final day of continental qualifying on Tuesday after Cesar Lolohea’s 56th-minute goal cancelled out an early opener from Chris Killen. That would have left New Zealand needing a draw from their trip to the Solomon Islands on Tuesday to be certain of topping the section.
However, with the final seconds ticking down, Smith popped up to claim his moment of glory and edge the Kiwis a step closer towards Brazil 2014. They now face a play-off against an as yet undetermined opponent from the CONCACAF region.
The game was Winston Reid's first as captain since succeeding Ryan Nelsen, and he admitted the All Whites were fortunate to escape with a victory. "This was by far our worst game of the competition," he said. "Obviously we made a couple of chances but on the day they were a little bit better than us. Sometimes you have a little bit of luck in football though, and we had it tonight."
Herbert’s side are, of course, aiming to build on a sensational campaign at the last FIFA World Cup, having famously ended the tournament as South Africa 2010’s only unbeaten team.