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First day brings fierce competition

Meanwhile New Caledonia and New Zealand got off to slightly slower starts, but were equally as deadly in front of goal to earn 5-1 and 5-0 margins over Fiji and Vanuatu in their respective opening matches.

Vodafone Arena in Suva, Fiji came alive tonight as long awaited rematch of 2011’s final got underway between the four-time champions the Kurukuru and twice runners-up Tahiti.

Solomon Islands coach Juliano Schmeling says a first up win is great, and proving some of the naysayers wrong was an added benefit of the hard-won victory.

“A lot of people criticised me because they think these boys are too old, but I trusted my boys,” Schmeling says.

“We have experienced players and a good squad, I think they played well and deserved the win tonight.

“It was a lot harder than I expected tonight. I was expecting Tahiti to be strong but I think they’ve improved a lot since I saw them last in 2014. Definitely against a tough team on the first day, it’s good to get the three points.”

Tahiti coach Jacob Tutavae believed his side had a good chance of taking the three points themselves, so is certainly disappointed to be walking away with nothing.

“It’s very disappointing because we wanted to win this game. The plan, the tactics were in place but the small errors we made resulted in the goals we conceded,” he says.

“Against a side like the Solomon Islands, if you make mistakes, they will score goals.”

The match started with a bang as just over two minutes in, Kurukuru captain Elliot Ragomo was on the scoresheet. It only got worse for Tahiti as the Solomon Islands, buoyed by an impressive group of supporters, put another one away courtesy of Jack Wetney.

The third and final nail was a shot drilled in by George Stevenson very soon after the second half restart and while the Tahitians put dual international Anthony Talo to work, the talented young keeper kept them at bay leaving the Aito Arii hugely frustrated at the final whistle.

In the day’s opening match New Caledonia got off to an excellent start, knocking five goals past Fiji, to earn a 5-1 victory.

Mainon Kaouwi got things underway shortly after the opening kick with a well struck shot beating Ulaiasi Tamanisau with ease. Fiji equalised shortly after with Altaaf Sahib striking a free kick incredibly well, but it was teammate Anish Kumar who went down as goal scorer.

Ludovic Boit then got on the board in the first half with an impressive goal of his own to give the Francophones the comfort of a lead at the break. Goals to Ivann Pourouroro, Christ Roland Pei and Jean Michel Denis Poadae in the second half gave New Caledonia the three points they desired for the start of their campaign.

“Fiji were very well positioned, their defence is good and they were hard to get past. I think the difference was fitness and physicality, and we were well organised,” Bret says.

“I’m very proud of the players.”

To lose their opener wasn’t part of the plan for Intiaz Khan and Fiji, but he says nervousness most likely played a part.

“Only our captain Mira has played in the national team before so when the players didn’t open up as I was expecting, I’m hoping it is nervousness,” he says.

“Tactic-wise it was a bit slow on the court, you could see it in the decision-making. I have to talk to them personally, and hopefully the team will come back open-minded for tomorrow.”

The day’s middle match was an exciting encounter between Vanuatu and New Zealand – much different from what the 10-4 margin of their previous meeting suggested.

Vanuatu came out blazing, using strong defensive tactics and their speed on the counter to really challenge the Futsal Whites from the outset.

While the managed to keep them at bay for the first half, the move too exhausting to maintain and Vanuatu started to show cracks in the second stanza, which is exactly what New Zealand’s Scott Gilligan was hoping for.

“We talked about Vanuatu and their counter attack. We saw it in New Zealand and knew it was going to happen. I think in the last few minutes of the first half we started to get on top but just couldn’t get the ball in,” he says.

“I wasn’t worried at half-time because I knew they’d start to get tired in the second half.”

Unable to maintain the pace they started with, Vanuatu still looked sharp but lapses in concentration led to mistakes and New Zealand were ready and waiting to pounce.

The goals came think and fast once Daniel Burns opened the scoring, with Micky Malivuk following up 30 seconds later. Malivuk did the same thing after Jakub Sinkora found the back of the net, scoring New Zealand’s fourth just under a minute later. Kareem Osman then rounded out the scoring for the Kiwis with a powerful effort of his own.

After starting strong, Vanuatu coach Louis Dominique was disappointed his side couldn’t hold on, but understands it was always going to be difficult against the well-drilled Futsal Whites.

“It was an impressive first half, I was happy with that because we worked together. But the second half was not so good. The boys made a lot of mistakes and we were punished,” he says.

“The strategy of the game was to use those key players as often as possible to try and make the difference, but in the last 10-15 minutes they were really tired and it was hard for them.”

Vanuatu gets straight back into the action tomorrow when they take on the hosts at Vodafone Arena at 3pm. New Caledonia will then test themselves against Solomon Islands before New Zealand take on Tahiti at 8pm.

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