Oceania: New Zealand seal top spot with win
SYDNEY, Sept 6 (Reuters) - New Zealand sealed the top spot in the Oceania World Cup qualifying competition with a 3-1 win over New Caledonia in Noumea on Saturday.
They advance to a two-leg playoff against the fifth-placed team from the Asian preliminaries late next year for a place in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Victory also secured an automatic spot in next year's Confederations Cup, which will also be played in South Africa, with New Zealand hoping to then make the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
"It's a fantastic result," New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert told the New Zealand Soccer website.
"As a team we agreed there was only one outcome when we gathered on Tuesday and that was to put (qualification) to bed in this game.
"History tells you that this is fantastic for New Zealand football.
"I know I'm the coach saying this, but it's the best result in the game in years."
New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz scored twice in 10 minutes midway through the second half to break a 1-1 deadlock after New Caledonia's Michel Hmae had cancelled out Ben Sigmund's early strike.
"There's a bunch of very happy players back there," Smeltz said. "We've come over to Noumea and achieved exactly what we wanted."
The win maintained New Zealand's unbeaten record in the four-team qualifying phase and gave them an unassailable lead at the top of the standings with two games in hand.
New Zealand play New Caledonia again in Auckland on Wednesday before tackling Fiji in Lautoka on Nov. 19. The Fijians also play away to Vanuatu on Wednesday but none of the remaining matches will have any bearing on the standings.
The only time New Zealand qualified for the World Cup was in 1982. Australia have dominated the Oceania division since but moved to Asia after the last World Cup in search of better competition and direct entry.
Fiji earlier won their first match of the final Oceania qualifying tournament when they beat Vanuatu 2-0 at Ba with Salesh Kumar and substitute Maciu Dunadamu both scoring goals.