The winner will book a ticket to compete in the prestigious FIFA tournament, which takes place from July 29 to August 20. The official draw was conducted today and the Oceania qualifier has been placed in Group B with Cameroon, Portugal and Uruguay. New Zealand have taken part in the U-20 World Cup once before – at the 2007 event in Canada – but victory tomorrow will mean an historic first ever appearance for the football-mad Solomon Islands.
The Mamulas earned the chance to write themselves into the record books with a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Vanuatu in the first semi-final on Wednesday. Extra-time could not separate the evenly-matched teams, who were locked at 2-2 on 90 minutes and 3-3 following the extra period, and it took some spot-kick heroics from goalkeeper Silas Seda to finally see the Solomons through.
In comparison, New Zealand’s Junior All Whites enjoyed a much smoother passage to the final, giving coach Chris Milicich few nervous moments during their comfortable 6-0 semi-final win over Fiji.
The finalists have already met once before in the competition and it was New Zealand who triumphed on that occasion, goals from Dakota Lucas, Marco Rojas and Andrew Bevin giving them a 3-0 win in their opening hit-out of Group B. The Solomons Islands had earlier beaten New Caledonia 3-1 to put themselves in a great position to go through, while New Zealand went on to sweep aside the same opponents 10-0 to qualify unbeaten for the semi-finals.
The scorelines so far suggest Milicich’s men will go into the match as heavy favourites but Solomon counterpart Noel Wagapu has reason to feel his side are capable of pulling off an upset. Despite losing to New Zealand in that earlier group match, Wagapu can take heart from the fact that the Mamulas kept their more illustrious rivals scoreless for the entirety of the first half and it was not until the 52nd minute that Lucas finally broke the deadlock.
But Wagapu will also be wary that the 3-0 loss was the first time the New Zealand players had linked up as a full squad – eight of the 20-strong line-up are based at overseas professional clubs while two are on scholarships with United States universities. Most of these players arrived in the country shortly before the tournament but have now had two weeks to get used to each others’ games and gel as a unit.
“I think we’ve kicked on a couple of gears since that first game, which was the very first match for this team together,” Milicich says. “The Solomon Islands are obviously quite a tidy, competent side with the ball at their feet but our tactics worked quite well against them last time.”
Milicich is pleased with the way his side is progressing and sees no reason to change a formula that has worked so well.
“I’m just going to tell the boys to keep doing what they’re doing and moving forward. We’re playing some great stuff on the deck but we’re also making sure we’re safe at the back. We’re not going to risk a Solomon striker suddenly picking up a sloppy pass. We’re trying to be safe and play when it’s on and are slowly starting to develop a playing style that I think is quite attractive to watch.”
Few who have followed the tournament could argue with that after watching the Junior All Whites stroke 19 goals home and concede none in their three matches. In contrast, the Mamulas have scored six and let in seven – a pair of statistics which highlight the difficulty of the task they face in taking on New Zealand.
Wagapu is full of respect for his opponents and knows his young charges will have to be at their very best to have any chance of setting foot on the plane to Colombia.
“We are hoping the second time around against New Zealand will be different and are going to put everything in so that we give them a good game,” he says.
“They are a very good team and have good organisation. Their boys are very disciplined and they are certainly capable of qualifying for the World Cup. We will definitely go in as underdogs and the result will depend on our performance – if we play well we may get success but if we don’t then it will be failure.”
If the Mamulas can confound expectations and earn a shock win, Wagapu believes the effect on Solomon Islands football will be major.
“It will be the first time one of our youth teams has ever made it to a World Cup – it’s very exciting,” he says. “It would be great not only for the players but for the whole country.”
The Junior All Whites have their eyes on the same prize though and Milicich is in no mood to oversee a slip-up by his players.
“These competitions are all about winning – you can talk about how you are going to play all day but the point is that you have to win these games. New Zealand teams have got to be careful that we don’t lose games we shouldn’t,” he says.
The 3rd/4th play-off between Vanuatu and Fiji will take place before the grand final tomorrow from noon. The final kicks off at 2.45pm and both matches will be played on the main pitch at North Harbour Stadium.

Grand Final

Solomon Islands vs. New Zealand
Friday 29 April
North Harbour Stadium
Local kick-off: 2.45pm
Solomon Islands: 1. Peter KIRIAU [GK], 2. Ian SIDA, 3. Freddie KINI, 4. Michael SIRA, 5. Chris TAFOA, 6. Michael BOSO, 7. Toata TIGI, 8. Steven SARU, 9. Larry SAE, 10. Tutizama TANITO, 11. Dennis IFUNAOA, 12. Leonard ROKOTO, 13. Augustine SAMANI, 14. Hudson FELANI, 15. Himson TELEDA, 16. Brian PETER, 17. Conley RATA, 18. Osman LUI, 19. William LAMANI, 20. Silas SEDA [GK]
Coach: Noel WAGAPU
Road to the final:
vs. New Caledonia 3-1
vs. New Zealand 0-3
Semi-final: vs. Vanuatu 3-3 [a.e.t, Solomon Islands win PSO 3-2]
New Zealand: 1. Stefan MARINOVIC [GK], 2. Andrew BEVIN, 3. Nick BRANCH, 4. Ryan CAIN, 5. Cory CHETTLEBURGH, 6. Nikko BOXALL, 7. Jamie DORIS, 8. Ethan GALBRAITH, 9. Liam GRAHAM, 10. Anthony HOBBS, 11. Dakota LUCAS, 12. Andrew MILNE, 13. Colin MURPHY, 14. James MUSA, 15. Marco ROJAS, 16. Luke ROWE, 17. Zane SOLE, 18. Adam THOMAS, 19. Neko VUJEVICH, 20. James McPEAKE [GK]
Coach: Chris MILICICH
Road to the final:
vs. Solomon Islands 3-0
vs. New Caledonia 10-0
Semi-final: vs. Fiji 6-0
3rd/4th Play-off
Vanuatu vs. Fiji
Friday 29 April
North Harbour Stadium
Local kick-off: 12pm
Vanuatu: 1. Seiloni IARUEL [GK], 2. Dominique FRED, 3. Willie-Ola JIMMY, 4. Brian KALTAK, 5. Simo JOSEPH, 6. Junia VAVA, 7. Abraham ROQUARA, 8. Johnney TIRAENG, 9. Octav MELTECOIN, 10. Yvong WILSON, 11. Jean KALTAK, 12. Eddison STEPHEN, 13. Pascal CHABOT, 14. Moses MOLI-KALONTANG, 15. Lucien HINGE, 16. Simon TOUSI [GK], 17. Kevin SHEM, 18. Rodrick NAUT, 19. Didier KALIP, 20. Silas FRANK
Coach: Moise POIDA
Fiji: 1. Akuila MATEISUVA [GK], 2. Iliesa LINO, 3. Krishneel KRISHNA, 4. Josua TAWAKE, 5. Malakai RAKULA, 6. Vilitati RATU, 7. Jone SALAUNEUNE, 8. Malakai LEVATIA, 9. Misaele DRAUNIBAKA, 10. Abbu SHAHEED, 11. Ilisoni TUINAWAIVUVU, 12. Akei ULUIBAU, 13. Ravinesh SINGH, 14. Poasa BAINIVALU, 15. Christopher KUMAR, 16. Amani VALEBALAVU, 17. Taione KEREVANUA, 18. Joseva BASUDRA, 19. Noa VUKICA, 20. Epeli LOANICEVA [GK]
Coach: Ravinesh KUMAR