Wednesday 30 March 2022, 21:00

Kiwis’ Doha delight as OFC reign continues

  • New Zealand beat the Solomon Islands 5-0 to win OFC’s qualifying tournament

  • All Whites maintained their stranglehold on the region with a dominant campaign in Doha

  • Intercontinental play-off against Concacaf’s fourth-placed team now beckons

New Zealand will fight it out for a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ place in an intercontinental play-off after cementing their position as Oceania’s pre-eminent football force. A showdown with the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf zone – the identify of which will be determined later today – now awaits to determine whether the All Whites can end their continent’s 12-year wait for representation at the global finals.

Danny Hay’s side emerged from a centralised preliminary tournament in the Qatari capital as convincing and deserved winners, albeit having encountered a couple of stiff tests along the way. They were once again indebted to star striker and record scorer Chris Wood, who rose to the occasion in Qatar with five goals in as many appearances – including one in the final – to finish as the competition’s top marksman. reviews the action from this historic mini-tournament.

The curse of COVID continues

With COVID-19 having put international football in Oceania into cold storage for over two years, this tournament was meant to signal the turning of a page. Sadly, there was instead a depressing reminder of the pandemic’s ability to wreak havoc and wreck dreams, as outbreaks in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu squads forced both to withdraw – the latter without kicking a ball. The result was that the outcome of Group A was determined by just a solitary match: the Solomon Islands’ 3-1 win over Tahiti.

Size matters in Doha decider

It was immediately evident as the teams lined up for the national anthems today that New Zealand held a marked height advantage over their final opponents. The question of whether they could fully exploit that advantage was emphatically answered in the space of 16 first-half minutes, during which the All Whites established and then doubled a lead thanks to headers from Bill Tuiloma and the irrepressible Wood. Two more set-piece goals then followed in the second period as the Solomons proved unable to hold their bigger, stronger opponents at bay.

Bill Tuiloma of New Zealand scores a goal to make it 0-1 during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Oceania Qualifier Final match between Solomon Islands and New Zealand at Grand Hamad Stadium on March 30, 2022.

Peaking at the right time

New Zealand didn’t cruise through the entire tournament, and there were awkward moments in their 1-0 victories over first Papua New Guinea and then, in the semi-finals, Tahiti. But they saved their best for last, coolly coping with some lively early play from the Solomons before taking an iron grip on the match and strolling to an accomplished and resounding victory. For the fans back home who’d set their alarms for a 6am kick-off time in New Zealand, it proved well worth the early start.

Pride and positive signs

Although their World Cup dreams ended, the region’s other teams saw plenty in Qatar to suggest that better times are ahead. “People should be happy and enjoy the team because this is a team for the future,” said Felipe Vega-Arango, coach of a Solomon Islands team beaten at the decisive stage for a second successive edition. “The fans should be happy because the future of Solomon football looks bright. Papua New Guinea also returned home with heads high, and with defender Alwin Komolong insisting “the best is yet to come”. “Back home everyone is pretty much hyped about us and I think we have put a lot of smiles on everyone’s faces. We’ll just build from this and continue to work hard and come back stronger,” he added.

A Solomon Islands match day pennant (300322)

The stats

10 – With victory in Doha, New Zealand maintained their unbeaten record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers against the Solomons. In ten meetings between these two teams in the OFC preliminaries, the All Whites have won eight and drawn two.

5 – The New Zealanders have now won each of their last five FIFA World Cup qualifiers and eight of their last nine international matches.

0 – The All Whites’ success has been built on a defence that has now kept clean sheets in six of their last eight fixtures.

The quotes

“I’ve been really proud of the professional way the players have approached things. We came here to do a job and we’ve done that. Now we can take a breather, celebrate and look forward. The reality is that we’re 90 minutes away from reaching a World Cup, which is bloody exciting for the country. We always believed in the process we put in place and, as for this group of players, I can’t speak highly enough of them. They try to make New Zealand proud every time they step on to the football pitch.” Danny Hay, New Zealand coach

“When I went to the locker room I told my players not to be disappointed, but proud of what they have done. I believe we had the youngest team in this tournament, with several 19-year-old boys playing, so I think the future is bright. There is a lot of talent in the Solomons. New Zealand were better prepared physically, they have a huge edge there, and that showed. But everything is positive. COVID and injuries are part of life right now, but the big positive for me is the players and the job they have done. And I have to say that OFC and FIFA have done a wonderful job making this tournament possible.” Felipe Vega-Arango, Solomon Islands coach