March 28, 2017
A goal in each half by impressive forward Ryan Thomas saw New Zealand beat Fiji 2-0 in Wellington tonight and qualify for the final of the Stage 3 of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
After going down 2-0 at home on Saturday, Fiji needed to win the fixture to keep its hopes alive while New Zealand just needed a draw to seal its spot in the final.
The hosts opted to rest some regulars including Captain Chris Wood and handed 17-year-old Dane Ingham his international debut while Fijian Coach Christophe Gamel started Avinesh Suwamy and Rinal Prasad ahead of Peniame Drova and Kavaia Rawaqa.
Thomas netted the opener for the All Whites in the 27th minute after connecting well with a Shane Smeltz through pass.
NZ based Prasad who failed to click was replaced just before the break by Lautoka’s Laitia Tuilau as the hosts took a 1-0 halftime lead.
Fijian Captain Roy Krishna was at his level best and looked dangerous on attack. But his scoring chances were often reduced as he was heavily marked and at times had five defenders chasing him.
Thomas got his double of the night in the 68th minute with a glancing header which gave goalkeeper Benaminio Mateinaqara no chance at all.
Fiji introduced Peniame Drova for Avinesh Swamy and Samuela Drudru for Osea Vakatalesau but the pair had very little to do as the Kiwis retained possession and managed to hold on to register their second win in just three days.
Fiji's home and away matches against New Caledonia in June will now just be a formality as both teams are out of contention.
By Reginald Chandar