Uninspiring All Whites Hold New Caledonia To Draw
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By Jeremy Ruane
New Zealand's All Whites produced a below-par performance as they held New Caledonia to a 0-0 draw at the Stade Yoshida in Kone on November 15, a result which leaves Anthony Hudson's side firmly in control of an Oceania World Cup qualifying group which also contains Fiji.
Needing to win to keep their own World Cup prospects alive, the New Caledonians set about doing so initially via the raids of Jarys Mene and captain Bertrand Kai, but it was the black-clad All Whites who produced the first goalscoring opportunity of the match, in the thirteenth minute.
Marco Rojas, Monty Patterson and the overlapping Kip Colvey combined on the left, with the fullback picking out Chris Wood with a cross which the striker headed down and to the 'keeper's right. Thomas Schmidt produced a superb reflex save to frustrate the All Whites' captain.
Two minutes later, the visitors should have opened the scoring. Andrew Durante intercepted a pass and surged upfield before linking with Wood, the defender - New Zealand's best performer throughout the contest - continuing his run after doing so.
Wood's ball forward ricocheted off Cedric Sansot, but landed perfectly in the stride of Durante, who charged into the penalty area before setting up Patterson for what should have been a simple tap-in. Instead, the striker, who had just Schmidt to beat, poked his shot past the post - a gilt-edged opportunity spurned.
Patterson and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi endeavoured to make amends soon after, but stoic New Caledonian defending frustrated the visitors. The home team then looked to strike on the counter-attack, with Kai's ambitious effort from half-way drifting over the top of Stefan Marinovic's goal.
The 'keeper was more troubled by Kai's next contribution to the match, a flying header to get on the end of an angled cross from Emile Bearune. The striker directed his effort straight at the goalkeeper, who was relieved to see Sansot pull his shot wide of the mark in the 21st minute after Georges Gope-Fenepej had worked a one-two with Kai before linking with Cesar Zeoula and the lanky figure of Sansot.
Gope-Fenepej then worked an opening with Kai, but his effort troubled Marinovic little, unlike his 28th minute attempt, which the 'keeper was forced to smother after Mene had engineered the opening for his team-mate.
New Zealand attacks were rare beasts in this contest - "Les Cagous" were making all the running, but on the half-hour, Patterson headed a Ryan Thomas cross onto the roof of the net.
Normal service soon resumed, Colvey being caught in possession by Zeoula, who ran on before chancing his arm from distance, to no avail. Kai was next to threaten, but his effort, too, was off target, while after Mene had blocked a shot on the turn from Wood, after Colvey and Thomas had combined on the left, the home team produced a super move eight minutes before half-time from which they should have scored.
Zeoula, a threat throughout in the Auckland match, once more proved a menace to the All Whites. He did Moses Dyer a treat on this occasion before taking on Colvey, then slipping the ball into the stride of Gope-Fenepej, whose finish, from the edge of the penalty area, was of the wild variety.
Still "Les Cagous" pressed, with Marinovic forced to save at the feet of Zeoula in the 38th minute, before a corner taken by the New Caledonian playmaker was turned inside by Bearune to Sansot, who shot straight at Marinovic from six yards out when a goal looked a certainty.
Things were already getting a tad on the niggly side by half-time, and the mood of the New Caledonians wasn't encouraged when Hudson-Wihongi took out Zeoula after the ball had gone within sixty seconds of the second half's commencement, an act which referee George Time allowed to go unpunished.
Further New Caledonian pressure followed, without any clear-cut opportunities being carved out, unlike when the All Whites first threatened to break the deadlock after the interval.
They were aided by Schmidt, who was all at sea positionally. Firstly, under next to no pressure from Patterson, he contrived to make a mess of an over-hit through ball, then he was earning comparisons with a windmill as he flapped vainly at a Liam Graham cross which Wood hooked past the post.
Dyer then saw a shot deflected past the upright, before Thomas hit the outside of the post with a cross-shot, with Schmidt once more giving the impression that he'd lost touch with reality with regard to his positioning.
Bill Tuiloma was one of two substitutes the All Whites introduced to the fray around the hour mark, and he certainly made an instant impression. Within minutes of coming on, he stepped in to deny Kai at the near post, after Zeoula and Gope-Fenepej had combined to good effect on the left.
It was Tuiloma's next contribution to the match which ultimately proved crucial to the final outcome. Zeoula, Gope-Fenepej and Mene produced a delightful combination of passes down the left, with the fullback's final ball playing Zeoula in on goal with just Marinovic to beat.
The 'keeper blocked the ball well, but the playmaker was swift to react, and chipped the ball towards the top far corner of the net and what looked certain to be the game's first goal, until the fast-retreating figure of Tuiloma leapt up to hook the sphere to safety from beneath the crossbar - a quite brilliant piece of athleticism and execution which kept the All Whites in the contest.
Now it was the turn of the other substitute who was introduced to the fray at the same time as Tuiloma to influence proceedings. Costa Barbarouses' first contribution to proceedings saw him latch onto a Thomas pass twenty minutes from time, only for Yoann Mercier to get back to block the shot in fine fashion.
Two minutes later, Barbarouses chipped the ball inside for Dyer, who burst between defenders to leave himself one-on-one with Schmidt, whom the midfielder unavoidably clattered into a split second after poking the ball past both the custodian and the far post.
Once play resumed, it was New Caledonia who initially looked more likely to break the deadlock. Gope-Fenepej headed a Zeoula corner over the bar in the 75th minute, after which it was All Whites' pressure which abounded.
Dyer squandered a great counter-attacking opportunity when directing a cross intended for Wood straight to Schmidt twelve minutes from time - the withering look the captain gave his team-mate was not one Dyer will forget in a hurry - while four minutes later, Wood was again the target for crosses, but neither Dyer nor Barbarouses were able to pick him out with their deliveries.
Three minutes from time, the frustration which had been mounting in the New Caledonian team bubbled over. Kai shoved Thomas to the ground, prompting a gathering of the clans and some testy exchanges before referee Time finally calmed things down and brandished the red card to Kai, New Caledonia's captain.
As he trudged off, with him went any last hopes of local success in this encounter, one which concluded without a goal on the board, a result which benefits the All Whites far more than it does New Caledonia on their respective roads to Russia 2018.
N. Caledonia: Schmidt; L. Wakanumune, Bearune, Mercier, Mene; Kayara (Dahite, 13), Zeoula, Dansot, J. Wakanumune, Gope-Fenepej (Sele, 87); Kai (sent off, 87).
All Whites: Marinovic; Graham (Wynne, 65), Boxall, Durante, Colvey (booked, 34); Dyer, Rojas, Hudson-Wihongi (Tuiloma, 56), Thomas; Patterson (Barbarouses, 56), Wood.
Referee: George Time (Solomon Islands).