New Zealand have made a powerful start to their OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier campaign in Auckland with a 3-1 victory over Fiji at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium.
Three goals in a six-minute period midway through the first half did the damage for New Zealand who are safely through to the semi-finals as Group A winners.
Fiji started brightly and created the first chance in the fourth minute when captain Etonia Dogalau took the ball down just outside the box and fired on target but Scott Morris, diving to his left, made a comfortable save.
Luis Toomey produced the first real chance for New Zealand in the 10th minute, turning and shooting inside the box and forcing a brilliant save from Fijian goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib. Liam Gillion then fired just over the bar before George Ott found himself in space with his shot cleared by the Fijian defence.
New Zealand kept the pressure on, forcing the Fijians deeper and deeper and the OlyWhites came within a whisker of taking the lead in the 16th minute when from a free-kick just outside the box, Jesse Randall curled a right foot shot against the inside of the post.
Three minutes later, Darren Bazeley’s side were in front when a short corner found Toomey, whose shot took a slight deflection and found the back of the net.
Main photo: New Zealand’s Luis Toomey (right) celebrates scoring with captain Willem Ebbinge. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
George Ott scored New Zealand’s second two minutes later from yards out at the near post, after a strong run down the right-hand touchline by Zac Zoricich.
The onslaught continued when Fiji’s Mohammed Raheem brought Jesse Randall down in the box and referee Ben Aukwai had no hesitation pointing to the spot. Randall scored the penalty at the second attempt after Mustahib saved the first but was adjudged to have moved from his line too early.
Fiji had a great chance to pull a goal back just before the break when Dogalau’s header went just wide before Aporosa Yada’s brilliant shot from distance touched over the bar from Morris to close out the half.
Fijian coach Robert Sherman made a change at half-time bringing on Mohammed Tunus Atiq for Josaia Sela and it appeared to provide his side with a increase in intensity and purpose.
The Fijians made the start to the second 45 they wanted when Aporosa Yada finished superbly after the ball fell to him on the left-hand side of penalty box and his left-footed shot rifled past Morris into the far corner of the net.
Fiji toiled hard but rarely threatened the New Zealand goal in the remainder of the match, while the OlyWhites created several half chances but were content to preserve their two-goal advantage.
New Zealand’s Willem Ebbinge was awarded the Player of the Match award.
Fiji meet Papua New Guinea on Saturday at the same venue in a match that will determine which side joins New Zealand in the semi-finals from Group A.
Acknowledgement: Match report courtesy of OFC Media.
Game played on Wednesday August 30, 2023
New Zealand 3 (Luis Toomey 19’, George Ott 21’, Jesse Randall 25’)
Fiji 1 (Aporosa Yada 50′)
The New Zealand U-23 starting line-up: