HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) — New Zealand won the Oceania qualifying series for the 2018 World Cup when it drew 2-2 with the Solomon Islands on Tuesday to complete an 8-3 aggregate victory in the home and away series.
After being outclassed 6-1 in the first leg in Auckland last week, the Solomon Islands produced a performance of immense character to rally from 2-0 down for only their second draw in 12 matches against New Zealand.
A goal to Myer Bevan and an own goal gave New Zealand a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes but the Solomons struck back with penalties to Micah Lea’alafa and Henry Fa’arodo.
New Zealand’s bid to qualify for the World Cup finals for the third time moves to the next stage, which is a two-match series in November against the fifth-place team in South America.
While New Zealand will be disappointed to have drawn Tuesday’s match, it had to contend with the absence of several leading players – making five changes from the combination which played in Auckland. It also struggled in intense heat at the Lawson Tama Stadium.
Bevan scored his first international goal in 14th minute, slotting home from close range after Kosta Barbarouses’s shot was parried by Solomons keeper Philip Mango. Barbarouses was involved again in the 20th when his cross was deflected into the Solomons’ net by defender Nelson Sale.
The Solomon Island began playing with more energy from that point as New Zealand wilted. Lea’alafa, who missed the first match because of a visa problem, showed his worth when he scored from the penalty spot in the 28th and Fa’arodo equalized in the 77th.
New Zealand was without regular captain Winston Read, the West Ham defender who was forced to miss the series because of injury. Burnley striker Chris Wood, who captained New Zealand and scored a hat trick in Auckland, had been released to rejoin his English Premier League club, as had Ryan Thomas who returned to his Dutch club.
“It was a difficult game today,” New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson said. “We had five changes in there in what was a really light squad for us.
“I was pleased just to get the job done.”
Felipe Vega-Arango, the Spanish-born coach of the Solomons, praised his team’s spirit after its heavy defeat in Auckland.
“The first thing I’d like to say is to congratulate New Zealand for going into the next stage. I hope they can get a spot in the World Cup and represent Oceania,” he said. “I think for us it was a very good score.
“We wanted to win because we were 2-0 down against a professional side. We are a humble team – everybody has a regular job, so it seems like a win to tell the truth.”