Solomon Islands swept into the semi-finals after a 12-goal frenzy against Samoa saw them slide into the second Group B slot behind New Zealand whose 5-0 win this evening knocked the Fijians out of contention.
After playing outstanding football against New Zealand, going down just 2-1, Solomon Islands continued their impressive form into their final group match against the qualifier winners.
The first goal was ten minutes in the making and ended up being as easy as a tap in from Ali Mekawir, to open the scoring, his second coming in the 19thminute courtesy of a shot that slipped through Talita Hafoka’s fingers and between his legs.
Steward Toata was next on the board smashing a fumbled ball in at close range, before the striker made room for Junior Allen to enter the fray. Mekawir completed his hat-trick on the stroke of the 30th minute and the fifth and final goal of the half came from Junior Kaoni in additional time.
Junior Kaonoi scored a second half hat-trick to take his tally to four for the match while Don Kaena and Junior Allen both scored two apiece to take the full-time score to 12 – five more than their previous best win against Samoa.
Coach Marlon Houkarawa was very impressed with his players although admitted they could have been much more prolific.
“It’s always a good thing to earn three points in a tournament so I’m excited for the boys,” he said.
“Obviously, we could have scored a lot more goals but it doesn’t always turn out that way so I’m still more than happy with the goals we did score.”
Samoa’s Desmond Faaiuaso was disappointed his side couldn’t close out the tournament on a better note.
“I’m very disappointed in the way we finished the tournament,” he said.
“It’s been a good experience for us overall however. We’ve improved a lot since we started this journey and I’m still proud of my boys for the effort they put into this tournament.”
After watching Solomon Islands see off Samoa in the earlier match Fiji knew a win would be needed if they wanted to continue through to the semi-finals.
However, up against the might of defending champions New Zealand, coach Shalen Lal knew it would be a tough ask especially after the loss of prolific striker Ratu Dau to injury.
“I guess we performed well in the first half and maybe these young boys lost hope after the third goal,“ he said.
“We know we lost to a better side. We knew we needed to at least draw this game and the boys had the mindset to go in fighting for the first 15 minutes and as usual New Zealand worked on their game plan and shattered our hopes in the first 15 minutes.”
New Zealand were out to top the group with the full nine points and they got that mission underway in the 12th minute when Matthew Jones met a corner delivery at the near post and sent it past Mohammed Alam.
Fiji held the Kiwis off well and times looked like they might pull themselves into the match, but unfortunately just couldn’t find the finishing touch they were after.
Elijah Just then made things harder for the Fijians when he profited from a messy period in the goal mouth to poke the ball home. New Zealand were kept at bay for the majority of the second half but just after the water break things fell apart.
Max Mata headed the ball in at the near post in the 76th minute. A second to Jones in the first minute of additional time followed by a penalty converted by Charles Spragg three minutes later took New Zealand to their final tally of five goals.
Coach Danny Hay was pleased to get through the group unscathed and with the full complement of points.
“I think we need to bounce back after the way we played against Solomon Islands,” he said.
“There were a few aspects we weren’t happy with but it was a good, professional performance I think is the way to describe it.
“Certainly we weren’t getting carried away with ourselves, we have a really difficult game against Papua New Guinea coming up and we’re just pleased to get through unscathed and with a few goals to give the boys some confidence.”