Posted: Friday June 8, 2012 5:28 AM

Tahiti, New Caledonia reach final in Oceania

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) -New Caledonia pulled off a massive upset when it beat regional heavyweight New Zealand 2-0 in the semifinals of the Oceania Nations Cup on Friday, earning a place opposite Tahiti in Sunday's final.

The winner of the eight-nation tournament will go on to represent Oceania at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Goals to Bertrand Kai and Georges Gope-Fenepej clinched New Caledonia's win over New Zealand, which represented Oceania at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where it was undefeated in the group stage with three draws but failed to progress.

New Zealand expected to be in a competition virtually without a rival after Australia left Oceania in 2006 to join Asia due to frustration over the qualification path for the World Cup.

New Caledonia's win means a team other than Australia or New Zealand will represent Oceania at a Confederations Cup for the first time since the tournament was introduced in 1997.

New Zealand still has a chance to qualify for the World Cup when it joins its fellow Oceania Nations Cup semifinalists in the next stage of regional qualifying. The third stage, beginning in September, involves home and away matches between the four remaining Oceania teams. The leading team after that stage will face the fifth-placed team in the CONCACAF federation for a place in the 2014 finals in Brazil.

Tahiti earlier Friday beat host the Solomon Islands 1-0, defending a 15th-minute goal by Jonathan Tehau.

New Caledonia qualified second behind Tahiti in Group A, while New Zealand topped Group B at the tournament, which is the second stage of World Cup qualifying in the Oceania region.

New Zealand was favored to progress to the final and to continue its regional domination, which has seen it repeatedly emerge at the top of World Cup qualifying tournaments in the widespread Pacific confederation.

But, after a scoreless first half, Kai gave New Caledonia a 1-0 lead when Jacques Haeko nudged forward a pass from Olivier Dokunengo and Kai dashed forward to chip the ball over advancing goalkeeper Jake Gleeson.

New Zealand's best chance to equalize came in the 47th minute when Bristol City striker Chris Wood headed a corner from Leo Bertos just over the crossbar.

Striker Shane Smeltz also missed a chance to score his 20th international goal for New Zealand when he headed Tony Lochhead's left-wing cross wide of an open goal in the 37th minute.

Gope-Fenepej clinched New Caledonia's victory in the second minute of stoppage time when he was left unmarked in the box and slotted a pass from Iamel Kabeu just wide of Gleeson.

New Zealand went more than two years without a win after the 2010 World Cup, breaking that drought last month when it beat Honduras in a friendly at Texas. It has struggled in this tournament, beating Fiji 1-0, Papua New Guinea 2-1 and drawing 1-1 with the Solomon Islands.

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said New Caledonia deserved its win and had been "the better side on the day.''

He said his team "had never been this disappointed before. But we haven't played well at this tournament. Give some credit to (New Caledonia), they worked hard. You've got to put them in the back of the net and we weren't good enough to do that.''

New Caledonia coach Alain Moizan said his team was delighted at beating "the big team in the Pacific.''

Earlier, Jonathan Tehau's solitary goal in the 15th minute propelled Tahiti into the final. Tehau was unmarked at the far post and rose to head home a free kick.

The Solomon Islands fought hard for an equalizer but were denied as Tahiti remained unbeaten at the tournament.
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