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Vanuatu still afloat after thrilling draw

Earlier in the afternoon Solomon Islands notched their first win of the tournament after slotting five unanswered goals past a tiring American Samoa.
The final match saw New Caledonia secure a 5-1 victory, with Papua New Guinea managing to snatch a late consolation goal to reduce the deficit somewhat.
Having managed a clean sheet throughout the competition to date, conceding an early goal against Vanuatu certainly wasn’t Fiji’s plan coming into the encounter.
“It certainly wasn’t the start we wanted. We didn’t want to concede the first goal but we were fortunate to equalise pretty soon after – and then took the lead,” he says.
“We were winning and then they equalized, but I would say a great performance from both of the teams.”
Kumar says there was a lot of pressure on both sides, especially with Vanuatu desperately in need of a win.
“We came in to have a good performance and it was not bad. Now we have a game in hand against Solomon Islands on Saturday.”
Fiji, as expected, came flying out of the blocks as they looked to wrap up the fixture early. It was a wobbly start for their opponents however as the action was focused very much in their goal box, with keeper Charlie Waivui having to make some crucial saves.
Vanuatu’s best chance of the first 20 minutes came when Gersom Kalsong cut the ball back into the box to Tony Kaltack who sent his effort up the face of the goal.
In the 22nd minute his teammate Bong Kalo didn’t make the same mistake as he blasted a Justin Koka cross between Fiji keeper Miswani Nairube and his post.
Fiji retaliated almost immediately as Saula Waqa headed down a Praneel Naidu cross which Nickel Chand lobbed over a reaching Waivui. The next action came five minutes before the break as Fiji captain Jale Dreloa headed home a Narendra Rao cross.
Having very much settled into the match, Vanuatu took control of the second half, creating exciting chances and testing the Fiji defence to its limits.
Their break came in the 57th minute when Kerry Iawak made a fancy solo run around his marker and into the box before firing home in what proved to be the last deciding action of the game.
For Vanuatu it wasn’t the ideal result either, but they’ve upset the apple cart just enough to keep themselves in the hunt and delay Fiji’s celebrations.
“It was nerve-racking on the bench. It was a great game and a great spectacle for the supporters,” says Vanuatu assistant coach Anthony Pisano.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we still kept the ties alive and we’re looking forward to Saturday.”
Pisano says he never doubted his side’s ability to pull themselves back into the game after going behind.
“I knew the boys had the heart to come back, I mean we’ve done it before and we were playing some really good football. Fiji were under a lot of pressure and I knew that we would be able to equalise, it’s just a bit disappointing we weren’t able to finish it off.”
In the opening match Solomon Islands ran home five goals to earn their first win of the competition.
“We are very happy, we would like to win the last two games and we’ve started well by winning this one and will try our best for the last game against Fiji,” says Solomon Islands assistant coach Gideon Omokirio.
“We tried to put the ball on the ground, especially as we haven’t got the height up the front and we tried to encourage the boys to try and keep the ball.”
While the dominated the game, Solomon Islands were made to wait 22 minutes before they could net their first goal as American Samoa locked their defence up tight.
Paul Collins did an outstanding job at left back to keep the lightning fast Atkin Kaua at bay. Despite the best efforts of a back line sorely missing the steadfast leadership of Rueben Luvu, American Samoa couldn’t prevent Timothy Bakale from slotting home an Obed Kevin cross.
It was then Kevin’s chance to get his name on the board as he got on the end of a cross from Kaua, firing it past keeper Frederick Maiava to round out the first half 2-0 up.
The Solomon Islands added another a mere two minutes back from the break with Atkin Kaua the author off a cross from Quanafia. In the 77th minute he had his brace as an attempt from the right was missed by substitute keeper Sione Moeaki, who was called into action after first string Maiava was injured in the 63rd minute.
The final action was a late strike from Jared Rongosulia who fired home in the first minute of additional time to seal the victory for Solomon Islands.
Obviously disappointed to again concede several goals, American Samoa coach Ruben Luvu says he is impressed by the never-say-die attitude of his players.
“I think the because of the nature of the league we play back home this has been a really big step up for our players – to play so many games in such a short period of time means they’re really tired,” Luvu says.
“They’re just not used to this level and going so hard for so long, but they pulled through really well and they can be proud of what they’ve achieved.”
In the final match of the evening New Caledonia dominated as expected with the cracks starting to show in the inexperienced Papua New Guinea setup.
The Caledonians took less than ten minutes to assert their dominance as they sought to prove their worth. Marion Doui Waru opened the account after Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Gibson Jimmy failed to hold on to a Valentin Nyikeine shot, allowing Waru to race in and fire home.
At times Papua New Guinea looked like a side that could challenge their Francophone rivals, but at others they looked like the tournament may be getting the better of their weary bodies.
Despite fatigue setting in Papua New Guinea battled away and gave New Caledonia keeper Yoran Waima a couple of scares as they made rapid forays into the box.
But the majority of possession and attacks were at the other end of the field, as the less-experienced gloveman Gibson Jimmy was kept on his toes. In the 41st minute his ability to keep the New Caledonian attack at arm’s length failed as Valentin Nyikeine sent a cross into the box for Joseph Athele to bang past Jimmy.
The second half saw New Caledonia add to their tally through Frederic Nemia, who connected well with a Nyikeine cross in the 53rd minute. Waru was the author of the fourth for New Caledonia, and the second for him on the night before Nyikeine got in on the goal scoring action himself five minutes later.
Papua New Guinea’s Papalau Awele managed to pull one back for his side late in the game as he received a cross, beat a couple of defenders and fired past Waima to reduce the deficit.
It was a well won game and an excellent performance from the players for New Caledonia coach Kamali Fitialeata.
“It was an interesting match, but it’s the boys who have to be congratulated for remaining serious and focused on the plan we put in place for PNG, which is good side,” he says.
However, he says it is perhaps a little late in the competition to have the impact they desired coming into it.
“I knew that as soon as we scored, we could do something in this competition, but in the first two games we unfortunately couldn’t score. Football is won by one goal more than your adversary and we couldn’t do that in our first two matches.”
For Papua New Guinea coach Wynton Rufer it’s another defeat, but a lesson for the future for these players as they gain experience at an international level.
“We play a very risky game, we press high, and you need the goalkeeper to play his part. Unfortunately our goalkeeper is not such an experienced player and as well there was some individual error for the second goal,” he says.
“The boys were knocking the ball around well, we had some good chances to score but there weren’t many. At least the final goal was for us, it’s better losing 5-1 than 5-0 I guess.”
The OFC U-20 Championship will conclude on Saturday 31 May with three matches lined up w
hich will determine the final standings.
In the opener New Caledonia will take on American Samoa at 2.30pm with both sides hoping to lift themselves higher up the standings. In the remaining two games Papua New Guinea are scheduled to play Vanuatu at 5pm, with Fiji concluding the competition against Solomon Islands at 7.30pm. These two final matches may yet be subject to simultaneous kick-offs, with that decision to be finalised tomorrow.

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