Fiji and the Solomon Islands have played out a 1-1 draw at ANZ Stadium, Suva in the first of two friendly matches in Fiji ahead of the next round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers in June.
Solomon Islands coach Filipe Vega-Arango Alonso said finishing was a problem for his side, but he got what he wanted overall.
“Finishing is always an issue as you can see most of the games they are 1-0 or 2-0, so it’s difficult to score a goal,” he explained.
“This was a hard game and so as a coach we have to keep working on every aspect of the game because we can’t make mistakes in our defence either.
“It was an entertaining match and we had more possession and transitioned well. we just had some problems with the finishing.”
Led by veteran Benjamin Totori, Solomon Islands started the match with the fast paced, attacking football they are renowned for.
It seemed like a break was coming for the visitors in the 22nd minute when referee Joel Hopken of Vanuatu awarded the a penalty after Fijian defender Remueru Tekiata was caught handling the ball in the box.
Totori stepped up to take the spot kick but his attempt was saved by the Fijian captain and goalkeeper Benaminio Mateinaqara.
Gamel replaced Ravinesh Karan Singh with Saula Waqa in the 32nd minute, adding more fire power to his front line.
Just three minutes later Rewa midfielder Epeli Saukuru netted the opener after receiving a neat pass from Christopher Wasasala from the midfield. Saukuru fired off a powerful drive from outside the box, taking full advantage of a mistake in defence from the Solomon Islanders.
In the 43rd minute the visitors were awarded their second penalty of the evening after Fijian defender Vuniuci Tokoimaimereke fouled striker Micah Lea’alafa.
Lea’alafa neatly placed the ball beyond the reach of the goalkeeper to level the score.
The teams put their substitutes to greater use in the second half, testing out a number of different combinations.
Fiji opted to make changes in defence with Laitia Tuilau replacing Vuniuci Tikomaimereke and Iosefo Verevou replacing Kavaia Rawaqa. Madhavan Goundar and young Manav Permal also went off the bench towards the later stages of the match to get their international debut.
The Solomon Islands on the other hand introduced seasoned players like James Naka and Henry Faa’rado to bolster their attack. Faa’rado and Michael Boso missed two prime opportunities for the Solomon Islands towards the end and a couple of good saves by Mateinaqara between the sticks kept the scores intact.
Fiji coach Christophe Gamel was impressed with the performance from his side, which included a number of debutants.
“Solomon Islands played an interesting match as they played inside and outside with an extra player. It was a pleasure to see this kind of football from the team and with all the work done by Fiji FA is has paid off,” Gamel said.