However, they still went on to top off Group A with a 4-0 win over Papua New Guinea yesterday afternoon.
New Zealand managed the change in conditions and stadium well – all things – considered although their opponents were much more at home climate-wise.
After having their bench completely obliterated by suspensions following the match against Tahiti, Papua New Guinea were left with just two substitutes, including reserve keeper Baxter Morris, for their game against the defending champions.
It’s certainly not how coach Harrison Kamake wanted to turn out but the OFC B Licence-holder did what he could with the resources he had at his disposal and at least for the first 45 minutes, things were looking good for the Melanesians.
Goalkeeper Graham Berigami played out of his skin, making impressive acrobatic saves throughout the first half to leave the opposing front line incredibly frustrated at times. Sylvester Luke, who had his red card overturned by the OFC Disciplinary Committee, played a crucial role in the backline for his team with some goal saving challenges, denying the likes of Max Mata, Oliver Whyte and Willem Ebbinge.
However, the class of the Kiwi side shone through in the second half, with half-time substitute Matthew Conroy having an immediate impact on the match as he made a driving run into the opposing penalty area in the opening minute only to be dragged down.
Captain for the day Mata stepped up and nailed the ball into the top of the net for the opener, ten minutes later and he was once again firing home from the spot after Luke dragged one of his teammates down in the box.
Conroy then got on the board himself when he scored his side’s first goal from open play for the day in the 67th minute.
Berigami looked like he might have tarnished his efforts when he dragged an opponent down in the box, but the gloveman redeemed himself when he saved the effort from Whyte. However Mata was waiting to net the follow up, securing a hat-trick in the process.
New Zealand coach Des Buckingham acknowledged the performance from Papua New Guinea, the first half in particular.
“It was a different game for us. Papua New Guinea set up very well and made it very difficult for us – full credit to them for that especially in the first half.”
With a place in the semi-final assured, Buckingham said it was another opportunity to make a few changes to the starting line-up and ensure the entire squad had a chance to impress ahead of Wednesday’s encounter.
“We managed to get one of the players who hasn’t played yet, Matt Conroy, on and I thought he had a big impact on the start of the second half and that helped us for the remainder of today,” he said.
(Story and picture by PNG Football Association)