WELLINGTON: To get to the finals, New Zealand will now have to beat the fourth placed team in the North and Central America (CONCACAF) regional qualifying tournament in a one-off playoff in Qatar in mid-June.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay was proud that his team progressed through Oceania's qualification with a 100% record but is under no illusions that getting to the World Cup finals remains a tough task.
The All Whites, playing in black, took a big step towards qualifying for the finals for the first time since 2010 with a 5-0 win over the Solomon Islands in the Oceania qualifying final in Qatar on Wednesday.
To get to the finals, New Zealand will now have to beat the fourth placed team in the North and Central America (CONCACAF) regional qualifying tournament in a one-off playoff in Qatar in mid-June.
"I've been really proud of the professional way the players have approached things. We came here to do a job and we've done that. Now we can take a breather, celebrate and look forward," Hay said.
"The reality is that we're 90 minutes away from reaching a World Cup, which is bloody exciting for the country. We always believed in the process we put in place and, as for this group of players, I can't speak highly enough of them." Three of New Zealand's five goals against the Solomon Islands came from headers, with central defender Bill Tuiloma grabbing two and Newcastle United striker Chris Wood another for his fifth strike in as many games at the tournament.
Their hopes of earning a ticket to Qatar, however, might rely more on a stingy defence which conceded just one goal over the five matches in Qatar.
The final round of CONCACAF qualifiers takes place later on Thursday and, barring a couple of stunning upsets, the All Whites look set to face Costa Rica for a spot in the finals.
Costa Rica, ranked 42nd in the FIFA rankings to New Zealand's 111th, boast Paris St Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas at the back and former Arsenal winger Joel Campbell up front.
"They've got some world class players and they really started to hit their straps at the back end of their qualifying campaign," Hay added.
"It's going to be extremely tough, but the reality is that we think we're in a really good space."