Group B: Match 10 - NZ defeats Vanuatu in thriller

AUCKLAND: In by far the best match of the 2004 OFC Men's Olympic Qualifying tournament, New Zealand dug deep after trailing 0-2 to beat Vanuatu 3-2 and take out Group B honours at North Harbour Stadium last night.

It was the perfect hit out ahead of their daunting play off date with Group A winner Australia next Monday, 26 January at Sydney's Parramatta Stadium. The corresponding play off match in New Zealand is to be played next Friday, 30 January at North Harbour Stadium.

The spectators were on the edge of their seats throughout the tense, yet entertaining encounter. Vanuatu made the perfect start and had the local fans stunned when they opened up a commanding 2-0 lead within the first twenty minutes. New Zealand
The tournament's leading goal-scorer Jean Maleb scored after a sensational solo run in the 9th minute using his speed and strength to shake off New Zealand central defenders, Andrew Boyens and Tony Lochhead and blast his shot high into the net past goalkeeper Glen Moss.

Maleb, only 17 years of age, was again influential ten minutes later making as solo run before putting striker partner Lorry Thompsen with a sensational reverse pass into space with his path to the goal blocked. Thompsen made no mistake with the finish and at 2-0 the New Zealand team were struggling to cope with the pace of the Vanuatu players. New Zealand had their moments also but were off the mark with their finishing.

However, instead of pushing their advantage, the Vanuatu team took their foot of the accelerator and with New Zealand steadily finding their combinations, the balance of the match turned. New Zealand steadily imposed themselves physically with target man Brent Fisher beginning to assert himself on attack and causing problems for the smaller Vanuatu defenders.

But the decisive moment came just before half-time when New Zealand struck back with a brilliant goal to Lochhead ghosting in from the left side and rising high to meet a beautifully struck free kick from near the right corner flag by David Mulligan. His header gave Vanuatu custodian John Presley Garae no chance.

New Zealand went into the break 1-2 down but encouraged by how they finished the half. In contrast, Vanuatu's feverish start had deteriorated into an error-ridden and nervous display which coach Carlos Buzzetti would have addressed in the changing room no doubt.

In the second half, Maleb came close to scoring his second goal a minute after the break with a shot that was saved by Moss. But thereafter the supply of ball to Maleb and Thompsen became scarce as the New Zealanders began to turn their domination of possession into set piece supremacy as they bombarded the Vanuatu defence with pinpoint crosses. The Vanuatu defence were often caught out on the counter attack as the New Zealanders moved the ball quickly down both flanks.

Vanuatu were caught out in the air yet again in the 51st minute and they paid dearly as New Zealand equalised through a headed goal to Shane Smeltz who met a great cross from James Pritchett, one of New Zealand's best on the night.
Ten minutes later, New Zealand capped off a superb fight back to score the winning goal through Fisher heading in a goal past Garae who was caught badly positioned.

Vanuatu was then stung into action and both Thompsen and Maleb were unlucky not to get the equaliser which they needed. First Moss pulled off a wonderful save to prevent Thompsen's shot from close range in the 87th minute, and then on the 90th minute, Maleb appeared to have scored his second goal after running on to a through ball from Thompsen. But the assistant referee Hillary Ani of PNG had flagged offside and the goal was disallowed causing a huge uproar from the Vanuatu bench and sighs of relief from anxious New Zealand spectators.

New Zealand held on in stoppage time to seal a famous 3-2 victory and the joy was evident on the faces of the players and officials alike who knew they had been in a game and had fought back superbly to win. Vanuatu's were left rueing what could have been.

The match ended in disappointing circumstances as defender Geoffrey Lego Lete was sent off for a dangerous tackle while two other Vanuatu players were cautioned for their part in a late fracas between the two sides' moments before the final whistle from Australian referee Simon Micallef.

Match 10: New Zealand vs Vanuatu / Statistical Review

Full-time score: 3-2 (New Zealand)
Half-time score: 1-2 (Vanuatu)

Date/Time: Thursday, 22 January - 7:30pm (NZT)

New Zealand - (3) Tony Lochhead 42'; (11) Shane Smeltz 51'; (10) Brent Fisher 62
Vanuatu - (11) Jean Maleb 9'; (13) Lorry Thompsen 19

Cautions: New Zealand - (4) Steve Turner 39
Vanuatu - (16) Daniel Alick 93'+; (11) Jean Maleb 93'+
Expulsions: Vanuatu - (4) Geoffrey Lego Lete 91'+

Weather: Fine weather, mild, excellent ground conditions
Crowd attendance: 1000

Match Officials:
Referee: Simon Micallef (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1: Benjamin Wilson (Australia)
Assistant Referee 2: Hillary Ani (PNG)
Fourth Official: Leone Rakaroi (Fiji)
Match Commissioner: Madiu Andrew (PNG)
Referee Inspector: Ken Wallace (New Zealand)

Team Line-ups (& Substitutes)

1 Glen MOSS (GK)
2 Rupesh PUNA
3 Tony LOCHHEAD (c)
4 Steven TURNER
6 Andrew BOYENS
7 Leo BERTOS (-62')
10 Brent FISHER
11 Shane SMELTZ (-75')
13 Matthew WILSON
20 Tamati WILLIAMS (RGK)
9 Tariq IMAM
12 Matthew ADAMS
14 Timothy BROWN (+62')
16 Allan PEARCE (+75')
17 Neil JONES
18 Jarrod SMITH
19 Jason HAYNE

Coach: Ricki Herbert

1. John Presley Garae (GK)
3. Manley Junior Tabe
4. Geoffrey Lego Gete
5. Dimitri Yakeula
7. Fedy Vava (-73')
8. Ali Silas Silas (-18')
10. Rick Mahe
11. Jean Maleb
13. Lorry Thompsen
15. Pita Maki
16. Daniel Alick (c)
20. Charly Kalsanei (RGK)
2. Willy Dick
6. Tom Charlie
9. Jean Christophe Massing
12. Waren Waiwai (+81')
14. Isaac Kapi
17. Alphose Qorig (+18') (-81')
18. Roger Joe (+73)
19. Jean Robert Yelou

Coach: Juan Carlos Buzzetti


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