March 31, 2022

New Zealand Reach World Cup Playoffs Against Costa Rica

The FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifying tournament for the nations of Oceania is the football world's smallest competition, with only a handful of countries in contention. Indeed, Oceania is not awarded any automatic qualification spots as part of the qualifiers process; the only route to the World Cup is via a slot in the inter-confederation playoffs. Nonetheless, the journey to the playoffs for the 2022 tournament has been a long one.

Oceania's mini-qualifications tournament was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant restrictions. Their tournament, which was to begin in September 2020, was postponed on five occasions and moved to the neutral venue of Doha, Qatar, when it became clear that it wasn't possible to organise the competition in the Oceania region. Withdrawals from the process also beset the tournament. Two of the eleven teams in contention, American Samoa and Samoa, withdrew early in the process. Then, Tonga pulled out just before the qualifiers kicked off in March 2022 due to a local volcanic eruption and the aftermath of a tsunami. With only eight teams left, the qualification stage for the mini-tournament was bypassed, and the competition began instead with the group stage, with the eight teams drawn into two groups. However, one matchday into the qualifiers, two other nations, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, dropped out of the running due to rising COVID cases within their squads. All games involving the two teams were deemed void.

The Solomon Islands and Tahiti, who had been in Group A with Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, faced a single-leg tie to decide who would join the semi-finalists from Group B as the winner and runner up. The Solomon Islands joined the final as the winner after a 3-1 victory over runner-up Tahiti.

In Group B, less troubled by the changes to the group stage format, New Zealand advanced to the final at the top of their group after beating all of its opponents, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Caledonia. Papua New Guinea joined the semi-final as the group's runner up.

The semi-final passed by without disruption. The Solomon Island triumphed 3-2 over Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand won their battle with a defiant Tahiti 1-0. The results left the Solomon Islands and New Zealand to face one another in the final.

Solomon Islands v New Zealand

On the day, New Zealand stepped up to thrash the Solomon Islands 5-0 with a comprehensive and confident performance. While the Solomon Islands came out on the offensive and tested New Zealand's keeper, Stefan Marinovic, from the start, their tactics often left space behind and wide that the All Whites were able to exploit to their advantage. 

In the end, New Zealand's Bill Tuiloma opened the scoring early with a header in the 23rd minute of the game. Another header from teammate Chris Wood doubled the score before the interval. Minutes into the second half, Joe Bell's effort slipped through the Solomon Islands keeper's hands into the back of the net, edging the score to 3-0. Then Tuiloma scored a brace in the 69th with another header. Though the win was already theirs, New Zealand's Matthew Garbett slotted in another in injury time to make the final score 5-0.

The Playoffs

New Zealand faces a single leg playoff against CONCACAF's World Cup qualifiers runner up, Costa Rica. Costa Rica narrowly missed out on automatic qualification on goal difference, having ended their competition on equal points to the USA but with a goal difference of five to eleven.

The teams will meet at a neutral venue in June, the winner of their bout will join the 31 other squads who have qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

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Published: March 31, 2022
Last updated: March 31, 2022
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