Kai sees red as Kiwis held in New Caledonia
New Caledonia survived a late red card for captain Bertrand Kai to register a hard-fought 0-0 draw against New Zealand in a entertaining and closely contested FIFA World Cup™ qualifier.
The All Whites had enjoyed a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over their regional rivals Saturday but this return meeting could have gone either way, with plenty of chances for both sides. The first and arguably most glaring was missed by Monty Patterson of New Zealand, who put the ball wide from all of four yards after being unselfishly teed up by Andrew Durante in 16 minutes.
New Caledonia always carried a threat at the other end, though, and would have taken the lead six minutes before the interval but for Stefan Marinovic racing from his line to deny Cesar Zeoula in a one-on-one.
It wasn’t to be Zeoula’s day. Midway through the second half, he capitalised on hesitancy in the New Zealand defence to lift a shot over Marinovic for what seemed a certain goal. But with the net set to bulge, All Whites substitute Bill Tuiloma raced back and pulled off the most acrobatic of goal-line clearances to rescue his side and keep the game goalless.
That was how it would stay, too, with the only real drama of the latter stages coming when tempers frayed five minutes from time and Kai received his marching orders following an altercation with Ryan Thomas.
New Zealand couldn’t capitalise on their numerical superiority, but remain top of Group A in this penultimate stage of OFC qualifying, which culminates with the two group winners advancing to a single home-and-away series. The team left standing after that will then advance to an intercontinental play-off against the fifth-placed side in the South American zone.