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Tight battles define second day

A capacity crowd of 15,000 turned out at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara and most were there for the entirety to watch defending champions New Zealand defeat Fiji and hosts Solomon Islands edge past Papua New Guinea, both victories arriving by 1-0 margins. The results give each of the winners a share of pole position in the group and leave the losers’ hopes hanging in the balance as they must now both take something from their next match.
That task will be particularly difficult for Papua New Guinea as they will come up against the might of New Zealand but Fiji do not have an easy assignment either in facing the Bonitos, as the hosts are known by their fanatical fans.
Those supporters had been eagerly anticipating the chance to see their beloved Bonitos in action and had to wait until the day’s second match for that opportunity. But once it did finally kick off, the wait for something to cheer was not much longer, Hardies Aengari driving into the box for Benjamin Totori to smash home inside Leslie Kalai’s near post in just the fifth minute.
It looked at that stage as if the Solomon Islands would go on to score a hatful more but they were frustrated by a Papua New Guinea outfit well drilled by former Australia coach Frank Farina and were restricted mainly to a raft of half chances. Papua New Guinea also struggled to create much on attack and both sides will have to improve in that area if either are to proceed to the semi-finals.
“We had a lot of opportunities to close out the game but couldn’t get that second goal,” Solomon Islands technical advisor Laurent Papillon said. “We will now have to recuperate as this was a very difficult match. I hope we will be able to score more goals in the next game because if we don’t take our chances then that will be a problem as the tournament goes on.”
Farina was disappointed mainly in the way the winning goal was conceded and knows his side must become more of an attacking force.
“I think we gave away the first goal too easily, it was a bad defensive mistake and the Solomon Islands took advantage of it,” Farina said. “At 1-0 down to the home team so early, the pressure was always going to come and it did. I thought we held out well but when we did get possession of the ball we couldn’t get it forward.”
The earlier game followed a similar pattern, an early goal proving enough for the victory. That strike was a memorable moment for All Whites captain Tommy Smith as it was the first time he has found the net at international level.
There was a touch of fortune about the ninth-minute strike, Fiji goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau uncharacteristically spilling a Leo Bertos free kick as Smith showed good presence of mind to follow up and tuck the loose ball away.
“You watch strikers score their goals and try to copy what they do,” the Ipswich Town player said. “I just gambled that the ‘keeper might make a little mistake and luckily for me he did. I definitely don’t score many with my right foot and it doesn’t matter that it was only two yards out because they all count.”
In a game of relatively few clear-cut chances, Fiji toiled hard in the humid heat to get back into the contest and gave Herbert a worrying afternoon, particularly in the final stages as they piled forward in search of an equaliser.
Mark Paston was forced to spectacularly keep out a sweetly-struck Avinesh Suwamy free kick just past the half-hour mark and was called into action again soon after the break to deny Osea Vakatalesau. The custodian’s afternoon was prematurely cut short just seconds later though as he received a knock to the head from Pita Bolaitoga and had to leave the field with suspected concussion.
He was replaced by Jake Gleeson, the man between the sticks for New Zealand’s Olympic-qualifying U-23 team, and the new arrival had plenty to keep him occupied as Fiji forced a series of corners and free kicks in the dying moments.
“There’s a lot to work on but some things we can’t change as far the weather is concerned – that was a huge factor today,” Herbert said. “I thought the front third of the pitch could’ve been a lot better and we weren’t as clinical as we could’ve been. Maybe the game might not have been so tight if we had been.”
Fiji counterpart Juan Carlos Buzzetti was not too dispirited by the loss and felt proud of his charges’ efforts.
“We made a bad mistake for the goal and you pay for those if you’re playing a team like New Zealand,” he said. “But, when you consider that they are nearly all professionals and we are amateur, I think we did exceptionally well.”
The focus will return to Group A tomorrow when Vanuatu take on Samoa at 12pm local time and Tahiti face New Caledonia in the Pacific’s francophone derby at 3pm local time.
Fiji vs New Zealand match summary Download Here
Solomon Islands vs Papua New Guinea match summary Download Here
Match Day 2 Competition Summary Download Here


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