Football: All Whites excited for ‘extremely tough’ Fifa World Cup playoff against Costa Rica

The All Whites can dare to dream about another Fifa World Cup appearance ahead of their momentous playoff with Costa Rica in June.

New Zealand booked their passage to the intercontinental contest after a convincing 5-0 win over the Solomon Islands on Friday in the final of the Oceania qualifying tournament.

It was an impressive display, capping off an unbeaten fortnight, where they have scored 18 goals and conceded just once.

The next step is a daunting one, against the fourth-placed Concacaf nation, but the All Whites will have their ‘one shot for glory’, with the winner progressing to Fifa’s November showpiece.

After being seemingly out of the mix, Costa Rica have won four of their last five qualifying matches to seal their playoff spot. The Central American country have great pedigree – with four Cup appearances since 2002 – but All Whites coach Danny Hay is excited about the challenge.

“We came here to do a job and we have done it,” said Hay. “[Costa Rica] have some world-class players, they’ve really started to hit their straps and it is going to be a vastly different style to the football that we’ve come up against here.

“It’s going to be extremely tough, but we are in a good space. We are potentially 90 minutes away from making a World Cup which is bloody exciting for us.”

The single-leg match in June will be New Zealand’s fourth consecutive inter-confederation battle, after Bahrain (2009), Mexico (2013) and Peru (2017).

That 2013 series ended in a 9-3 drubbing, with Mexico a class above, but Hay said times have changed.

“We know that it is a big step for us, coming up against a Concacaf nation,” said Hay. “We are certainly not going to be underestimating Costa Rica – they bring a lot of quality – but that said this is a vastly different [New Zealand] team. We are a young team but we have a huge amount of experience in key areas as well.”

Friday’s performance was impressive, especially given Winston Reid and Libby Cacace were rested, to mitigate the risk of the potential suspension for the June match from yellow card accumulation.

Hay acknowledged it was a decision that could have backfired but was a “no brainer” given what was at stake.

Solomon Islands started well, pressing New Zealand in possession and showing some early attacking intent.

But Bill Tuiloma’s 23rd-minute goal took some wind out of their sails, while also exposing their vulnerability at set pieces, before Chris Wood finished a good team move just before halftime.

A calamitous error from Solomons goalkeeper Phillip Mango early in the second half ended the contest, as he completely misjudged a Joe Bell corner, allowing the ball to sail directly into the net.

A second Wood goal, from one of the best moves of the match, was ruled out following a VAR check, before Tuiloma added the fourth, with another spring-heeled far post header.

Matt Garbett completed the deal with a crisp finish in added time, his first international goal.

The Solomons, who were hampered by the loss of three players on the eve of the game to positive Covid tests, had their moments, with Raphael Leai forcing a couple of good interventions from goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, but they were gradually overwhelmed and also vulnerable at set piece time.

“Once we got control of it, we started to play the style that we are trying to make our identity,” said Hay.

The All Whites were heavy favourites coming into this tournament but the complications of securing players, with games outside the Fifa window, along with the constant spectre of Covid, had made for a testing few weeks.

“It’s a big relief,” admitted Hay. “We always believed in the process [but I] can’t speak highly enough of the players, the way they approached things.”

All Whites 5 (Bill Tuiloma 23, 69, Chris Wood 39, Joe Bell 50, Matt Garbett 90 +1)
Solomon Islands 0
HT: 2-0

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