Central defender Tommy Smith scored a stoppage time goal to give New Zealand a 2-1 victory over New Caledonia in Dunedin on Friday and qualify for the intercontinental playoff for a place at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
New Zealand had been staring at the ignominy of a 1-1 draw against Les Cagous and being forced to at least draw their last match of the final round of Oceania qualifying against the Solomon Islands before Smith's 94th minute effort after a goalmouth scramble.
New Zealand will now face the fourth-placed team from the Central and North American and Caribbean Confederation (CONCACAF) in a two-legged playoff for a berth in Brazil. "It was a hard slog, luckily we found something at the last minute," Smith told New Zealand's RadioSport. "Tonight we didn't play the best but at the end of the day the result is what matters."
The All Whites, who made the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, had won their four previous qualifying games and started brightly at the Otago Regional Stadium when Chris Killen headed home a Leo Bertos corner in the 10th minute. However, the visitors fought back and a 56th minute goal by Cesar Lolohea had looked to have snatched a 1-1 draw after the home side were left chasing the game for long spells before Smith came up with the all important match winner.
New Caledonia, who lost 2-0 to the All Whites in their opening game in the final round of Oceania qualifying, had won their previous three matches and the last-minute loss ensures they can no longer overhaul Ricki Herbert's side.
Tahiti and the Solomons play later on Friday in their fifth game of the qualifying round, but both are already out of contention for the playoff. Les Cagous host Oceania champions Tahiti in Noumea on Tuesday while New Zealand face the Solomon Islands in Honiara in the final round of qualifying matches.