*•New Zealand secure passage to Oceania World Cup play-off •Tahiti, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea still in the hunt for the other spot •New Caledonia and Fiji eliminated from the race for Russia 2018 *
Oceania’s Round 3 groups in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying have developed a very different complexion following the middle pair of matchdays. New Zealand completed their four-match schedule with a near-perfect record to comfortably secure passage to the continent’s home-and-away play-off in August and September.
Group B, however, bears a very different balance. Tahiti and Papua New Guinea secured away wins over each other during the past week, leaving all to play for when Solomon Islands rejoin the race in June. The winner of the Oceania final will feature in an intercontinental play-off against the fifth-placed South American team.
*FIFA.com *reviews all the action in the Pacific over the past week.
Group A – New Zealand imperious
Identical 2-0 wins for New Zealand over Fiji were enough to catapult the All Whites into the play-off. Without the concern of watching for other results in June’s final Group A games, New Zealand can now start focusing fully on the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup. The toughest test of the week was always going to be the away fixture against Fiji in Lautoka, which the All Whites passed with flying colours. Second-half goals from Chris Wood and Marco Rojas were enough to defy the cloying humidity, as well as a Fiji side buoyed by their first World Cup appearance at home since 2008.
New Zealand reprised that scoreline on Tuesday in Wellington with a comfortable victory built around a double from young star Ryan Thomas, who netted his first international goals. The Kiwis have not conceded in their past eight Oceania World Cup qualifiers. Tuesday’s result left New Zealand on ten points from a possible 12, ending New Caledonia and Fiji’s Round 3 adventure after just two matches.
*Group B – PNG rebound to set up tense finale *In contrast, Group B is set for a dramatic conclusion in June with all three teams – Tahiti, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – still boasting high hopes. In keeping with matches at last year’s Nations Cup, results among the Pacific’s top few sides remain exceptionally tight.
Papua New Guinea opened their Round 3 campaign last week with a 3-1 home loss against Tahiti in Port Moresby, with Sylvain Graglia netting a brace. PNG opened the scoring but a red card to attacking starlet David Browne on his debut proved costly, with the home side eventually overrun. PNG, however, displayed their resolve by earning a tough 2-1 win in the return, having made an unfamiliar journey across to the far eastern fringes of the confederation. Anything less would have seen PNG’s hopes all but extinguished. As it stands, Tahiti sit on six points having completed their four fixtures, with Melanesian rivals Solomon Islands and PNG three points adrift and looking to overhaul the French Polynesians during June’s two home and away matches.
Raymond Gunemba has become something of a talisman for Papua New Guinea. He was top-scorer at last year’s OFC Nations Cup as Papua New Guinea claimed their best international achievement – a runners-up finish at the continental event. Gunemba, who recently enjoyed a stint with Hamilton Wanderers in the New Zealand national league, missed the PNG’s home defeat against Tahiti through suspension, but returned to the fray in Papeete to score a crucial winner for the Kapuls.
*The stat 2 *– It is relatively uncommon to have two brothers line up in a national team, but the Ingham brothers - Jai and Dane - achieved an extraordinary feat on Tuesday, when the pair made their respective international debuts in the same match as New Zealand met Fiji in Wellington.
*The quote *
"I think we’re a lot better with the ball, a lot more dominant in possession and the mentality of the group over the two games has been outstanding.” *New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson *
*Next matches *
*Matchday 5 *
Fiji-New Caledonia (5 June)
Solomon Islands-Papua New Guinea (9 June)
*Matchday 6 *
New Caledonia-Fiji (13 June)
Papua New Guinea-Solomon Islands (13 Jun)