This summer was not kind to Ricki Herbert and New Zealand football. The 2nd Round of Oceania World Cup 2014 Qualifying doubles as the OFC Nations Cup. This event was hosted by the Solomon Islands in June, which led to to excessive heat. In fact the teams took a short break at the midway point of each half to prevent cramping. New Zealand was placed in a group with the host Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. The Kiwis won the group, getting two wins and then finishing the round with a draw after their progression had been assured. The four teams that advanced to the Semi-finals were also the four that would make the 3rd and final round of World Cup Qualifying, and joining the All-Whites were New Caledonia, Tahiti, and the Solomon Islands.
The Semi-finals, however, was where the All-Whites were stopped as New Caledonia shut them out 2-0. This was the first Nations Cup where someone other than Australia or New Zealand would win. New Zealand would go on to finish 3rd as they won their last match 4-3 over the Solomon Islands. One problem that the All Whites faced is depth. Early in the first game of the group stage Mark Paston goes down and the team was forced to use 22 year old Jake Gleeson for the rest of the tournament.
While they did successfully continue qualify for the next round, it is the Nations Cup that decides who is to represent the Oceania Confederation at the 2013 Confederations Cup. Reaching this cup does help financially for the confederation who gets the opportunity to go, which will be Tahiti next year. But it also prepares that nation for the World Cup taking place the following year, should they also qualify for that allowing them to find a home base and get a feel for the weather and stadiums that they could be playing in.
While the team was very disappointed to have not won the Cup, Ricki Herbert and the team entered the third round looking to right a wrong and maintain a focus.
And they did just that. In their first match of the 3rd round, they travelled to New Caledonia and enacted some revenge, winning 2-0, with Shane Smeltz and Chris Wood doing the damage. In their second game they returned home and easily handled the Solomon Islands 6-1 in Auckland. Goals were scored by Smeltz, Wood, as well as Kosta Barbarouses, Chris Killen, Tony Lochhead, and Marco Rojas. With 2 of the six rounds now completed the table looks like this:
# Team MP W D L GF GA GD Points
1. New Zealand 2 2 0 0 8 1 +7 6
2. New Caledonia 2 1 0 1 4 2 +2 3
3. Solomon Islands 2 1 0 1 3 6 -3 3
4. Tahiti 2 0 0 2 0 6 -6 0
Their next two matches will be in October and they have a home and home setup against Tahiti who have yet to find their form since the Nations Cup. Two wins here would give them a major edge and given certain results between the other 2 nations would see them reach the intercontinental playoff even before the last two matches.Personally I think they will get all 6 points and should have the confidence to finish off the group with ease.
The next home game will be on October 16th at Christchurch, which barring an injury should be local boy Ryan Nelsen’s 50th cap for the country. Personally I say kudos to the Federation for the moving a game down to Christchurch, and they deserve the luck of it having such good timing.
In other news
Chris Wood of West Bromwich Albion has sealed a loan move to Millwall in hopes of getting more first team football. I think this is a good move, as last year Wood has some great success playing in the English Championship League and there is a possibility that the move could become permanent. In his second game for his new club, he scored in the 78th minute to pull one goal back for the Lions.
Winston Reid and West Ham United have not looked out of their depth so far as they returned to the Premier League after a 1 year hiatus. As of the end of matches on saturday the team sits in 8th place through 5 games. Reid himself has even helped the cause offensively with a goal in the 3-0 win over Fulham on September 1.
Ryan Nelsen is also adjusting well following his move to Queen’s Park Rangers. Last week the team earned a hardfought 0-0 draw with Chelsea. Due to his steady performance Sky Sports named him their Man of the Match. QPR currently sits in the relegation zone at 19th. EspnFC has done an excellent article on Nelsen leading up to their match on the 23rd against Tottenham Hotspur, who he was with last season.