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Clinical All Whites see off Fiji challenge

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 28/03/2017

New Zealand players sing the national anthem during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and Fiji at Westpac Stadium on March 28, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images New Zealand players sing the national anthem during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and Fiji at Westpac Stadium on March 28, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand It wasn't a runaway win, but a controlled All Whites outfit have beaten Fiji 2-0 in Wellington to ease through to the final stage of Oceania World Cup qualifying.

Young attacking midfielder Ryan Thomas backed up his first-half strike with a 68th minute header to see the Kiwis home in clinical fashion in front of an appreciative 10,133-strong crowd.

The win means the All Whites will top Group A, earning a home and away series later this year against the winners of Group B, currently led by Tahiti.

Coach Anthony Hudson made good use of the depth available, ringing the changes after New Zealand's draining 2-0 win over Fiji in Lautoka two days ago.

Captain Chris Wood, whose penalty opened the scoring on Sunday, returned to Leeds United early as a precaution after taking a heavy knock.

Tommy Smith, who played a brief cameo late in Lautoka, combined with stand-in captain Andrew Durante and Tom Doyle in a defensive line freshened by the inclusion of 17-year-old right back Dane Ingham.

The new combination was never seriously tested, with Fiji restricted to the occasional long-range speculator.

Ryan Thomas of New Zealand celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and Fiji at Westpac Stadium on March 28, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Ryan Thomas of New Zealand celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the New Zealand All Whites and Fiji at Westpac Stadium on March 28, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand

But although most of the action was at the other end of the field, Ingham in particular showed impressive pace on attack, finding plenty of space and constantly testing the Fijian defence.

The Kiwis started strongly and never let up, playing with plenty of pace and variety.

While Marco Rojas, who has scored in four of his last five internationals, was a constant threat through the middle, the All Whites also created plenty of pressure out wide, with the chances coming thick and fast.

Thomas and Clayton Lewis showed some nice touches after 18 minutes in a dangerous one-two which didn't quite fall for Shane Smeltz to finish.

Smith's header from a short corner ricocheted off the crossbar at the 25 minute mark as the New Zealanders' midfield domination continued to create opportunities.

Two minutes later, the pressure finally told as an unmarked Thomas slammed home after Smeltz teed him up with a perfect knock-back.

It was the 22-year-old attacking midfielder's first international goal, and one he added to with a well-placed second-half finish.

Doyle sent in a 68th minute cross, and Thomas's glancing header found the back of the net to give the Kiwis a welcome buffer to safely see out the closing 15 minutes.

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