Solomon Islands, June 2: Stand-in captain Tommy Smith scored the only goal as New Zealand battled to a 1-0 win over Fiji in its opening match at the Oceania Nations Cup football tournament on Saturday.
Later, the Solomon Islands beat Papua New Guinea 1-0 to delight fans at the Lawson Tama Stadium. Benjamin Totori scored the only goal in the fifth minute of the Group B match.
Ipswich defender Smith tapped home a rebound after Fiji goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau failed to hold a Leo Bertos free kick in the ninth minute as 2010 finalists New Zealand struggled to open the World Cup qualifying tournament with a win. It was the 22-year-old's first international goal.
Fiji had several chances to equalize, the best coming in the 49th minute when veteran Roy Krishna back-heeled the ball to striker Osea Vakatalesau on the edge of the box only for goalkeeper Mark Paston to tip Vakatalesau's shot over the bar. Paston was later forced from the field with a head injury.
Smith became New Zealand's youngest captain at 22 when he led the team in friendlies late last month against Honduras and El Salvador in the absence of regular skipper Ryan Nelson.
Tottenham Hotspur defender Nelsen was ruled out of the Nations Cup with a knee injury and the England-born Smith has retained the captaincy and a crucial role in defense while New Zealand has been without Nelsen and West Ham's Winston Reid.
Under Nelsen, New Zealand qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and drew their three pool play to be the only unbeaten team in the tournament's group stages.
Coach Ricki Herbert expected Saturday's opening match against Fiji to be a tough test for his relatively young team.
“The first match is always hard because there is always some uncertainty,” he said. “The trip to America (to play Honduras and El Salvador) was good, but our biggest problem is that the players haven't been in competition for a long time so I think this tournament is going to be very demanding physically.
The winner of the eight-team tournament qualifies for the 2013 Confederations Cup and the top four teams progress to the third stage of Oceania qualifying.