A brace of goals to Marco Rojas has led the All Whites to a deserved 2-0 victory over New Caledonia in their first home match in more than two years.
The Melbourne Victory star scored in either half of the World Cup qualifier at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday, ensuring New Zealand had started the second phase in their road to the 2018 global showcase in Russia on the right note.
In breezy and changeable conditions, Rojas netted in the 42nd and 72nd minutes in front of a little more than 8000 fans who walked away having witnessed their team’s sixth win over Les Cagous in seven encounters between the two nations.
After their strong performances against Mexico and the USA last month, most expected the All Whites to be much more convincing than their 1-0 victory against New Caledonia in the semifinals of the Oceania Nations Cup in June.
Early signs of that were positive, Dutch-based star Ryan Thomas claiming a fourth-minute free-kick and Wood’s strike threatening before sailing over the crossbar.
The sight of Wood on or near the ball became constant throughout the first 45 minutes, the hosts using the height advantage the lofty Leeds front-man had over the visiting defenders as something of a target.
New Zealand continued to dominate when, in the 13th minute, Thomas was felled in a poor challenge by Yohann Mercier and Tahitian referee Norbert Hauata produced the first yellow card of the day.
Despite being on the front foot, the All Whites were also very direct, perhaps a result of the absence of injured Phoenix midfield stalwart Michael McGlinchey.
It was an approach the visitors were safely negating and as 20 minutes went past, Les Cagous began to settle into the contest.
They won the first corner of the match in the 23rd minute and just moments Cesar Zeoula has his goal-bound shot blocked clear.
A scrappy period ensued, before Wood very nearly broke the deadlock when his second freekick rattled the outside of the right post.
Just five minutes later Kosta Barbarouses suffered the same fate, Wood putting the diminutive winger clear and his low shot pinging back off the inside of the same post.
As the neared an end, though, the home side finally got reward for their endeavour, Rojas finding room to attack the penalty box, losing and then regaining possession as Schmidt could only partially block a shot which spun into the net.
New Caledonia burst into life to start the second spell, Zeoula sending a free header narrowly over the bar and creating several more problems for the Kiwi defence with his speed and skill.
But the hosts survived the sustained onslaught and 17 minutes into the half reclaimed the initiative when Rojas doubled the lead with his second.
Wood was again the provider, bringing Monty Patterson’s low cross from the left under control in the box before flicking the ball behind him towards the back post for Rojas to tap in.
With the visitors immediately pressing forward in an attempt to get back into the contest, New Zealand found more room to move in the closing quarter and on several occasions came close to making it 3-0.
Only a marginally off-target shot, an offside flag or the last line of defence in Schmidt keeping the score unchanged, tireless skipper Wood particularly unlucky not to add to his international tally of 18 goals.
But with victory secure, none of that mattered, and the All Whites had ensured they had begun the next phase on the road to Russia in the right fashion.
New Zealand 2 (Marco Rojas 42, 72) New Caledonia 0. Halftime: 1-0.