New Zealand will face the Solomon Islands in the final of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Oceania Qualifiers after Liberato Cacace’s second-half goal ended Tahiti’s brave resolve at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha.
New Zealand boss Danny Hay made several changes to the side that faced New Caledonia last time out, with just Matt Garbett and Callum McCowatt remaining from the 11 who started the 7-1 win. Meanwhile, Samuel Garcia made just the one change to the Tahiti team that lost 3-1 to the Solomon Islands, Mauri Heitaa coming in at left-back.
The plan from the All Whites was obvious from the start, looking to retain possession and stretch the game with their wing-backs Cacace and Niko Kirwan.
Tahiti, meanwhile, were happy to dig deep and defend, although Eddy Kaspard was posing a physical threat in attack for the Toa Aito.
His relentless pressure on New Zealand defender Nando Pijnaker earned Tahiti a free-kick from which Joe Bell awkwardly headed clear Raimana Li Fung Kuee’s dangerous delivery.
The opening half hour was scrappy, with referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim doing his best to control the game and dishing out yellow cards to both teams.
New Zealand then had the best opportunity of a physically contested first period. Cacace’s exquisite left-foot cross found teammate Garbett unmarked six yards out but the midfielder could only guide his header over the Tahiti crossbar.
The All Whites tested Tahiti goalkeeper Teave Teamotuaitau on several occasions before the break, with Joe Bell and Callum McCowatt both having shots from the edge of the box comfortably gathered by the stopper. The always dangerous Chris Wood then headed a half-chance wide as Tahiti’s defensive rearguard held firm to round out an embattled first-half performance.
The second-half continued in much the same vein. Winston Reid and Bill Tuiloma both had chances from corners stopped on the line early on and Elijah Just and Garbett both placed creative efforts wide for Hay’s men.
Tahiti coach Garcia will however have been happy with the way his team implemented his strategy. Brave defending from Alvin Tehau and Francois Hapipi held firm for the Toa Aito whilst the impressive Kaspard tested Stefan Marinovic in the New Zealand goal just moments before the breakthrough came for the All Whites.
Cacace took matters into his own hands, driving inside from left-wing-back to smash home what proved to be the winner after Garbett flicked on substitute Alex Greive’s return pass.
Long-range efforts from Tauhiti Keck and Dylan Paama gave Tahiti hope but New Zealand held on through five minutes of stoppage time to book their place against Solomon Islands in the final, a repeat of the OFC’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification final, after they beat Papua New Guinea 3-2 earlier today..