- New Zealand and Solomon Islands meet in the OFC World Cup play-off
- The winner faces South America's fifth-best nation
- The Kiwis featured at Russia 2017 while it is Solo's first OFC final since 2004
It is two years to the day since Oceania qualifying commenced in the low-key surroundings of Tonga’s national football centre as Samoa kicked-off – and eventually won – an all-Polynesian opening stage.
The remaining OFC nations entered the race during Round 2 with six teams ultimately staying alive, before New Zealand and Solomon Islands survived their respective three-team groups in Round 3. New Zealand won three and drew four of their matches to advance in some comfort. Solo, in contrast, edged out Tahiti and Papua New Guinea following an array of evenly-fought matches.
New Zealand have had no luck on the injury front with a key quartet of players to miss the two matches – captain Winston Reid, first-choice defender Tommy Smith, current leading goalscorer Shane Smeltz and young attacking ace Marco Rojas. Also missing will be teenage fullback Dane Ingham who has sent home earlier in the week for a lack of fitness. The squad was the first-ever All Whites roster with each player on a professional contract. On the plus side is the form of stand-in skipper Chris Wood, who last weekend scored on debut for English Premier League club Burnley following his move from Leeds.
Solomon Islands seem set to be without arguably their most in-form player in Auckland City FC attacker Micah Lea’alafa, with the lively goalscorer starring for the Navy Blues at the FIFA Club World Cup. Henry Fa’Arodo, the nation’s most-capped player with just over 50 appearances, will be making his international swansong should the Bonitos be eliminated.
New Zealand’s record against Solomon Islands, not to mention their home form against Pacific Island nations, means the All Whites start as warm favourites. The statistics back New Zealand’s strong claim to favouritism, having won six and drawn one of their seven matches against the Melanesians. Solo did draw 1-1 against the Kiwis at home in 2012. A likely key to their hopes will be holding New Zealand away ahead of the return in front of a large and passionate Honiara crowd.
“When you get to finals in these situations it’s not as straightforward, these are always tricky games. They’re going to be really stubborn. I don’t think they’re going to come and attack, really counter-attack and so irrespective of how big the team is, it’s going to be a really tricky game.”
New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson
“It will be a tough game away from, especially with the weather which will freezing. Combine that with their team, which is full of professional players. But we will be up for it nevertheless.” Solomon Islands forward Benjamin Totori
New Zealand-Solomon Islands (Auckland)
19:35 local time (08:35 GMT)
Solomon Islands-New Zealand (Honiara)
14:00 local time (04:00 GMT)