Patience and a well-timed double substitution were key to getting the All Whites’ 2022 World Cup campaign off to a winning start as a Ben Waine strike gave his team a 1-0 win against Papua New Guinea.
Without many of their experienced professionals, coach Danny Hay placed his faith in youngsters who showed maturity as they wore down their opponents, sealing victory when PNG bodies were sagging in the final stages of the game.
With two-thirds of the game’s possession and a half-dozen clear chances, New Zealand could have won the game by a much larger margin.
But the mission was to get through the opening game of the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament without mishap.
For the first quarter hour, both sides took no chances, knocking the ball sideways or long to the wings.
Clayton Lewis became the first Kiwi to go into the ref’s notebook when he collected a yellow card in the 13th minute for a mistimed slide tackle.
The game settled into a rhythm with New Zealand increasingly taking control.
Captain Winston Reid anchored the defence, deciding whether to start play from the back or spray it wide to wingers Joe Champness on the left, or Kosta Barbarouses on the right.
Main photo: Barbarouses is tackled when bearing down on the PNG goal.
New Zealand had the first chance of the game in the 26th minute when Reid headed over the bar from the game’s second corner.
Five minutes later, PNG had their first attempt on goal, a long hopeful effort that sailed wide.
The All Whites were deprived in the 34th minute when a Cam Howieson cross was met by Matt Garbett whose effort was saved at point-blank range by PNG goalkeeper Ronald Warisan.
In the 38th minute, Champness was tripped on the edge of the area. From the resulting free-kick, Champness clipped his shot over the bar.
Three minutes later, Garbett dragged a shot wide from the edge of the area.
The pressure was starting to tell for PNG as they noticeably slowed, and took opportunities to stop play for breathers.
They made their first substitution a couple of minutes before the interval.
The PNG players survived a tiring — but goal-less — half in which New Zealand enjoyed 62% of the possession.
Champness had the first chance of the second half when his header from a corner was cleared off the PNG line in the 52nd minute.
PNG gave New Zealand a scare on the hour when wideman Daniel Joe whipped in a low cross from the right and substitute Kolu Kepo headed it just wide of the near post.
The turning point: Waine scores on debut
Head coach Danny Hay changed the game when he made a double substitution in the 66th minute, introducing Wellington Phoenix duo Ben Old and Waine for their full international debuts.
Waine’s speed exploited the tiring legs of the Kapul defenders. He was brought down on the edge of the area and from the free kick, Dane Ingham and Garbett cleverly took a tap-and-go, creating a cross for Waine to finish.
The goal, in the 75th minute, settled the nerves of the 11 New Zealanders on the pitch and the many more watching the game back home.
New Zealand could have doubled their lead soon after when Ingham crossed to the far post for Logan Rogerson to fling himself forward, heading onto the bar.
With two minutes left, Garbett struck the bar with a stinging shot from the edge of the area.
On time, Nikko Boxall’s goal-bound header was saved by ‘keeper Warisan.
A few nerves crept in as the All Whites ran down the clock in added time — Rogerson picked up a yellow card for a clumsy tackle — and everyone dropped back to defend a hopeful PNG free kick into the penalty area.
Qatar referee Saoud Al Abda eventually blew for full time.
The first step had been taken on the Road to Qatar.
Papua New Guinea
20 Ronald WARISAN (GK), 2 Daniel JOE, 4 Alwin KOMOLONG, 5 Felix KOMOLONG, 6 Ati KEPO, 7 Raymond GUNEMBA 12 David MUTA (c), 13 Tommy SEMMY, 14 Emmanuel SIMON, 17 Jacob SABUA, 19 Koriak UPAIGA.
Subs:1 Russel CHRIS (GK), 22 Ila ILAROVA (GK), 3 Godfrey HARO, 8 Michael FOSTER, 9 Stahl GUBAG, 10 Obert BIKA, 11 Yagi YASASA, 15 Joshua TALAU, 16 Pala PAUL, 18 Kolu KEPO, 21 Mathew DAVID, 23 Emmanuel AIREM. Coach: Marcos GUSMAO
1 Oliver SAIL (GK), 2 Winston REID (c), 6 Clayton LEWIS, 7 Kosta BARBAROUSES, 11 Joe CHAMPNESS, 13 Dane INGHAM, 14 Andre DE JONG, 15 Dalton WILKINS, 16 Nikko BOXALL, 18 Cam HOWIESON, 19 Matt GARBETT.
Subs: 23 Matthew GOULD (GK), 3 Francis DE VRIES, 4 Niko KIRWAN, 5 Tommy SMITH, 8 Ben OLD, 17 Logan ROGERSON, 21 Ben WAINE. Coach: Danny HAY