All Whites skipper Chris Wood spent a week in the headlines and then inspired his team to take a dominant 6-1 lead after the opening leg of OFC final qualifying for the FIFA World Cup against the Solomon Islands in Auckland.
The 25-year-old, who scored on his Premier League debut for Burnley at Wembley last weekend, continued his goal-scoring heroics for New Zealand with a double before half-time and completed his hat-trick late on in stunning fashion with a perfectly-placed free kick.
Wood, who brought up his 50th cap at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia in June, was the talking point of the night. He climbed to third on the all-time All Whites goal-scoring list with 23, overtaking the late Steve Sumner and moving just one behind Shane Smeltz.
Kosta Barbarouses, Ryan Thomas and Michael McGlinchey were the other All Whites to get their names on the scoresheet as the fully-professional home team proved to be at another level to the Group B winners.
The Solomon Islands did manage to take some consolation when captain Henry Fa’arado scored a penalty in the 53rd minute after Deklan Wynne was adjudged to have fouled Benjamin Totori in the area.
All Whites coach Anthony Hudson had called for a dominant performance to put the tie to bed and his team delivered. They have now all but confirmed their place in the intercontinental play-off against the fifth-placed CONMEBOL side in November. The OFC Nations Cup champions travel to Honiara on Monday for the Tuesday fixture and it would take a monumental effort from the hosts to turn this tie around.
The ‘Bonitos’ of the Solomon Islands enjoyed a bright opening few moments and Michael Boxall got the match off to a lively start when he went into the referee’s book with less than three minutes on the clock. But New Zealand soon began to monopolise possession and Wood opened the scoring in the 18th minute, following p a deflected shot from Ryan Thomas and hammering home past Solomon Islands goalkeeper Phillip Mango with a superb left-foot finish.
It was just what the home team needed to settle the nerves and from that point on they looked likely to score on many occasions as they pressed forward.
Wood and Storm Roux combined nicely three minutes later and the Central Coast Mariner right wing-back laid the ball off for Kosta Barbarouses, who struck his shot well and came within inches of doubling the lead.
Wood couldn’t keep out of the action and shrugged off two defenders in the box to connect with his header and force a good save from Mango. He had his second minutes later when he pounced on a defensive error. Nelson Sale slipped over and missed his connection with the, ball allowing Wood to go one-on-one with Mango. He showed his class with a cool chip over the stranded goalkeeper to send the 10,000-plus crowd at QBE Stadium into raptures.
Minutes later, the goals kept coming for Hudson’s men when a loose ball broke to Barbarouses on the edge of the area and he found the far corner superbly to make it 3-0.
The home team took that lead into the changing rooms and could easily have extended it after the break when Wood had a great chance to complete his hat-trick but his header was well saved by Mango.
The Solomon Islands got a goal back when captain Fa’arado converted from the penalty spot but the response from the home team was immediate. They went down the other end and attacking midfielder Monty Patterson produced a great ball for Thomas to finish with a touch of class on 55 minutes.
Hudson made his first change of the night when he brought on holding midfielder James Musa for Patterson in the 64th minute and the home team continued to attack. Myer Bevan, just 20, came on to make his senior international debut soon after and the team he joined were far from done with their scoring for the night.
With ten minutes remaining, there was still time for a pair of special free kicks, Michael McClinchey expertly curling one into the top corner from right on the edge of the area on 80 minutes before Wood repeated the trick with a low strike in stoppage time.
It was the first hat-trick by an All White since Wood last took home the match ball against the same opposition in a 4-3 win in the third place play-off at the 2012 OFC Nations Cup in Honiara.
He and the All Whites have now made a significant stride towards qualifying for the intercontinental play-off in November and will look to complete the job in Honiara on Tuesday.
New Zealand 6 (Chris Wood 18’, 36’, 90’ + 3’, Kosta Barbarouses 39’, Ryan Thomas 55’, Michael McGlinchey 80’)
Substitutes not used: 12. Glen Moss (GK), 17. Thomas Doyle, 19. Alex Rufer, 22. Andrew Durante, 23. Oliver Sail (GK)