AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand closed in on a World Cup qualifying playoff spot against the fifth-place South American team by beating the Solomon Islands 6-1 Friday in the opening match of a two-leg series.
New Zealand captain Chris Wood scored a hat trick ahead of the return leg on Tuesday in Honiara.
The winner of the series will face a South American team for a place at next year’s World Cup in Russia. The current team in fifth place is Argentina.
Wood, who moved to Premier League club Burnley from Leeds, scored twice in the first half while Kosta Barbarouses made it 3-0.
Ryan Thomas took advantage of some poor defending to give New Zealand a 4-0 lead, and Michael McGlinchey scored from a free kick in the 81st minute. Wood then completed his hat trick in injury time.
Winston Reid, a West Ham defender who is the usual New Zealand captain, was unavailable for the match with a calf injury. Shane Smeltz, Tommy Smith and Marco Rojas were also absent. For the Solomon Islands, New Zealand-based striker Micah Lea’alafa was unavailable because of a visa problem.
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