All Whites 2-2 Solomon Islands: Don’t Look Back

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An hour or so before the game kicked off, NZ Football’s account tweeted the odds for the result and, gotta admit it, those numbers for the draw looked rather enticing. Sidestepping the concerning way that bookies are so intertwined with kiwi sport – don’t gamble kids! – those odds didn’t look so great at 2-0 up midway through the first half. But then two penalties later and what do ya know?

The most important thing to remember about this game is that, thanks to Friday night, it didn’t matter at all. An 8-3 aggregate win may as well have been 8-7 and we still woulda been looking forward to that intercontinental playoff. That’s the thing, we’re through it now and will definitely be taking on that fifth-placed South American side for a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Perfectly understandably, Chris Wood and Ryan Thomas were released to return to their clubs after dominating on Friday. Similarly Mike McGlinchey, Kip Colvey and Mike Boxall were left out as they were all sitting on yellow cards. Ollie Sail didn’t travel either, what with being the third keeper and all.

Which meant a squad of sixteen players (including Moses Dyer who was a late call-up). In fact Dyer even got to start ahead of James Musa or Alex Rufer – slightly controversial. Andy Durante captained which is fair enough, Tom Doyle played as right centre back which was odd but okay, sure. Keeps Sam Brotherton on the left of the three where he played quite well the other day. Deklan Wynne and Storm Roux each got 90 minutes after starting on Friday – only the third time in 18 games that Huddo’s picked the same two wingbacks in consecutive games since he started using this formation properly at the Nations Cup.

Also Monty Patterson started in attacking mid again and Myer Bevan was given his first start. Stefan Marinovic started as well because he always starts. Good thing too because he made some sharp saves. Several of them, even. Too many, one might argue. Yeah, the NZers might have scored a couple goals in that first half but this was far from a glowing performance. One goal was a fluke deflection and the other some sloppy scrambling stuff. Bevan did well to poach on the sucker but that was pretty messy.

With all the players missing though, of course it was gonna be a disjointed performance. Moses Dyer and Themi Tzimopoulos were our central midfielders, for crying out loud. Patterson was nowhere near as effective as last game (borderline anonymous other than his defensive hustling) and it was no surprise he was the first one subbed off. Meanwhile the defence weren’t as assured as you’d have thought they would be either. Fair play to the Solomons who whipped up some nice football at times but it just looked like our defenders were on the back foot too often. They were waiting for the game to come to them, as was Themi in midfield playing so deep he might as well have been a fourth centre back.

So much of that has to be down to their mind-set. All we ever hear when the All Whites play in the Islands is about how tough the conditions are. Sure, they’re brutal. But the more you worry about it the worse it’ll be – self-fulfilling prophecies and all that, right. The All Whites went to the Solomon Islands to do a job and thanks to the previous game that job didn’t need much doing.

The first penalty was Andy Durante’s fault. He stuck a leg in late and the ref had no choice. The second penalty… if you know what the second penalty was for then flick us a tweet or something because… jeezus. You serious, ref? But dodgy as the call may have been the Solomons were definitely worth that goal. They were pushing it in the second half, they were getting the better opportunities to shoot. With Marinovic in goal and some terrible attempts at goal there was no way you could say the goal was coming but it certainly wasn’t an impossibility and at 2-1 you’re walking a tightrope already.

Then left to push for the win in the last ten minutes the All Whites didn’t have the gas left. A 2-2 draw for their efforts. You have to be a little disappointed by it all and nobody should be arguing that it was a good performance. A professional one? Eh, now we’re getting into semantics. There was some nice stuff but they also let the game slip away from them. Keeping it all in perspective, it’s a slight annoyance but it’s hardly the most disappointing they’ve been. The two build-up games before the Confeds were way worse on the Disappoint-O-Meter. As was the 0-0 draw in New Caledonia and the 0-0 draw in the Nations Cup final. Oh and quite a few of those early Hudson games against Asian teams.

Let’s be positive though, bugger the negativity. Here are some happy notes from this game to dwell on instead of worrying about a meaningless result in boiler-room conditions:

Themi Tzimopoulos was average in the first half but in the second he was able to get on the ball more often and he did some solid stuff. Dude’s got no speed or mobility but he flashed some passing ability that we haven’t ever seen from him before. Gotta remember that he usually plays this role for his club so when we see him in defence that’s taking some adjustment.

Myer Bevan got his first international goal, probably the first of many. He’s the most exciting striker this country has produced since the bloke he replaced in the starting XI and even the Woodsman wasn’t this polished at this age.

21 consecutive starts and counting for Stefan Marinovic. This one included more saves than he’s used to making but at this point the typical Marinovic game is best described as ‘flawless’.

Through the whole qualifying campaign the All Whites conceded four goals and all four were from penalties. Now, set piece or no set piece, a goal is a goal. If we give away four spotties against Peru or Argentina then it doesn’t matter that they weren’t sweet individual game-breaking moments of brilliance. Yet it’s still something to be said for the defensive organisation of the team. They gave up a lot of shots here but many were from deep positions unlikely to test the keeper – those stats can be deceiving in that way. Also, this was a bad performance from an entirely second-string defence and this was still the case (ordinarily: Boxall, Reid & Smith).

Would have liked to see more of Musa and Rufer… and not only for the poetic value of their names. Each are fairly rangy midfielders, slightly understood in what they offer to the team after their previous sojourns in defence and attack respectively. Particularly Musa and particularly after watching Moses Dyer’s performance. We’re keeping it positive so not gonna dwell on that but suffice to say the last time Dyer started was also the last time the All Whites drew with an OFC opponent.

This is neither a positive nor a negative but this was the first time in all his 24 games as gaffer that Anthony Hudson didn’t use his three substitutions. Obviously there have been friendlies where players didn’t get on with more subs available but until now he’d always used at least three. Seems tough in these conditions but his remaining subs were a reserve keeper and a couple jokers left on yellow cards. Having said that, a late consolation cap for Glen Moss woulda been fun.

And, erm… that’s about it, really. Nothing much fun to watch but those November qualifiers sure will be and we might even get an October friendly before then too. The ‘job done’ refrain is a bit stupid unless you’re counting Friday when 180 minutes’ worth of footy was completed in half the time so just dwell on the reward instead.


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