Billed as a final of sorts given the two sides’ equal footing at the top of the standings, the Solomon Islands encounter against New Zealand lived up to the hype with a terse affair playing out before the packed stands at Vodafone Arena in Suva, Fiji.
It all started fairly evenly, with both sides having some early opportunities as they exchanged possession back and forth. Neither team wanted to give an inch to their opposition which led to some heated exchanges early on as the two sides tried to impose themselves in the game.
However with two FIFA Futsal World Cups behind them the experience showed for the Kurukuru as Ragomo let rip low and hard after a stunning solo advance. The opener sent the predominantly Solomon Island crowd into raptures as the captain faced down the fans as he celebrated what would prove a crucial advantage.
New Zealand never stopped with shots coming from all over the court but between Anthony Talo and some quality defence, it just wasn’t coming off for the Futsal Whites. Daniel Burns and Micky Malivuk looked to be the target men for a number of long balls and they certainly troubled the Kurukuru, as did Dylan Manickum who is proving himself more and more essential to the squad as the matches go on for his creativity and ability to open up the court.
The Futsal Whites had a prime opportunity to equalise with just over six minutes on the clock after Solomons accumulated their sixth foul – but Talo stared down Marvin Eakins effort and blocked it away.
Down by just one goal, the chase seemed possible for New Zealand as they came out for the second half and while they held out their opponents as they pressed forward, they only managed to keep it that way for ten minutes before Jack Wetney slid a Ragomo cross into the net.
It was an opening of the floodgates somewhat much to the Kiwis despair as Ragomo put another in the net with a flick over Elias Billeh. The fourth and final goal was another stunning strike with the hardworking James Egeta setting Jeffery Bule up.
A mixture of delight and relief was written on coach Juliano Schmeling’s face after the match, with the pleasure of winning a crucial match on the road to Colombia 2016 still sinking in.
“The boys performed well, definitely I’m happy as it is three more points, but it’s not finished yet. We have two more games and nothing is decided yet,” he says before acknowledging the strides New Zealand has made to get to their current stage.
“New Zealand have come from a big project, they are doing so well in New Zealand and I think they’re an example for all Pacific Island nations.”
Without doubt, it wasn’t the result Scott Gilligan was wanting, but he was quick to credit the performance from the Futsal Whites.
“I can’t fault the boys. They gave everything and were just beaten by a better team on the night. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.
“To be honest I think we made some good chances in the first half but we didn’t make as much of them as we should have.”
Earlier in the afternoon New Caledonia struck incredibly early in the piece as Christ Roland Pei pulled the ball back from the goal line for Loic Caunes to smash into the net with just 28 seconds off the clock.
Vanuatu’s Don Mansale pulled his side back in line but they went behind again a short time later as Caunes added his second of the afternoon. It was a lead that New Caledonia would take into the break but not much longer after that.
Vanuatu captain led by example adding the equaliser shortly after the restart and it only got better for his side as they opened up and starting playing the game their coaching staff were expecting from them.
Ricky Tuigaloa struck twice in a minute to extend the margin to 4-2, before captain Ben Hungai got in on the action. Vanuatu’s sixth goal came courtesy of Morsen Luie and it looked like it might be over.
But New Caledonia are not quitters by any stretch and having continued to pressure Vanuatu they were eventually rewarded when Maurice Hamu slammed in a third for the Caledonians with 11 seconds left on the clock.
It certainly wasn’t the final result William Bret had expected, especially going into the half-time break.
“I guess we were a little worn out from yesterday, we have a couple of key players injured, but it’s not an excuse because we are an entire team. However maybe all of these factors came into play and left us less organised than our previous games,” he says.
“Vanuatu played incredibly well, to their credit. They were well organised and structured which meant they could capitalise on our difficulties.”
Of course the story was completely different for Louis Dominique who was ecstatic to get a second win on the run.
“We didn’t start well and were a goal down and struggling. We had to adjust our pace and come back with a strategy to try and score more goals,” he says.
“Our strategy was for greater concentration ad more rotation when they’re trying to apply pressure, more rotations to create space and score.”
In the evening’s final encounter Tahiti too, wasted no time in getting themselves on the score board as Tamanui Turihono rattled the framework with his 3rd minute goal.
The inexperienced Fiji side did well to keep their opponent at bay for a sustained period of time but as Tahiti adopted the power play, Fiji’s lack of game time started to show through as they struggled to deal with the extra man.
Anderson Tino was the next scorer for Tahiti after a number of powerful shots went astray, he was able to slot home from close range. Fiji had a couple of chances in between, but Tane Tave was the next to score flicking into the roof of the net as the first half came to a close.
The goals continued to flow in the second half as Teivarii Kaiha, Heimana Faarahia, and Smith Tino scored, while Anderson Tino and Tave added a second each.
In the middle of the goal flurry Fiji were able to nick one back of their own with deserving captain Mira Sahib taking the honours as he finished of a Dhiraj Kumar cross.
Rubbing salt in the wound of their loss was the late red card to fifth man Suraj Chand for deliberately handling the ball which prevented a goal. The resulting penalty was converted by Steeve Wong in what was essentially the final play of the match.
“It’s certainly a better feeling to be in front of the camera after a win,” an elated Jacob Tutavae shares.
“I have to congratulate my players because tonight they did their job and were rewarded. Even if we lost two very difficult games we remained professional, we remained positive.
“We are an attacking side and in our last two games that wasn’t evident. Today we had nothing to lose so we let loose a bit.”
Intiaz Khan, Fiji coach, says they were after a respective score line against Tahiti and he believes that was achieved.
“You know, hats off to my players. Tahiti are an experienced side compared with us and it was the first time the team experienced playing against a power play. I think we learned a lot from this match and that’s important.”
Thursday the teams take a well-deserved break before returning to action on Friday when Tahiti take on New Caledonia at 3pm. Solomon Islands will then play Vanuatu at 5.30pm before Fiji close out the day against New Zealand at 8pm.