New Zealand coach Steve Cain says there was plenty to take out of the match.
“Today was an object lesson in patience and trying to break down a very well organised opponent. I have to give credit to Fiji, I think they played very well and made life difficult for us,” said Cain.
“My team is learning all the time. They’re still in only their second game of international football and we tend to forget that. “
It was a tight first half with New Zealand failing to take advantage of the strong wind behind them. Tim Payne went close from 12 yards after 27 minutes while captain Luke Adams headed a Rhys Jordan free-kick into the crossbar moments later. At the other end, Soheb Sheik and Akram Hussain looked dangerous on the counter.
The home side had plenty of corners in the first half but it wasn’t until after the break that they capitalised with Jordan Vale climbing high to head home in the 49th minute.
It was a thrilling end to a tense match as Al-taaf Sahib’s superb free-kick in injury time drew the best out of New Zealand goalkeeper Scott Basalaj who tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Fiji coach Hussain Sahib says it was gutsy performance from his side.
“I’m so proud of the way the boys played. It was very very close and the game could have gone either way,” says Sahib. “This game will be good for their morale because we showed we can compete and we’ll go on from here to finish the tournament on a high note. “
In the other match, American Samoa looked hungry for their first ever win at an OFC tournament. Their more fancied opponents Papua New Guinea got the scoring underway in the 13th minute when Daniel Taylor set up David Browne for an easy tap-in but American Samoa hit straight back through Ryan Petaia after a goal-mouth scramble.
The formidable striker then earned his side a penalty after Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Benjamin Wilbert brought him down in the 39th minute. Shalom Luani couldn’t capitalise, crashing his penalty kick against the crossbar, before Petaia wasted another golden opportunity one-on-one with the goalkeeper on the stroke of half-time.
Rupeni Luvu’s young squad would be left to rue their chances as Papua New Guinea captain Alwin Komolong sealed the victory with a goal in the 67th minute.
Papua New Guinea assistant coach Leslie Babaga admitted it was a lucky escape.
“They came out stronger than we expected and caught us off guard,” said Babaga. “But we got the win and now we have time to regroup with a bye before we play New Zealand. The Young All Whites are a very good side but if we play like we did against Fiji then we believe we can challenge them.”
Tomorrow’s Group B action will see Tahiti take on the Cook Islands at 1:30pm before the Solomon Islands square off against Tonga at 4:00pm. Both games take place on Domain 4 at North Harbour Stadium.