Duo prepare for Stage 3 with friendlies

Fiji and Solomon Islands at the 2016 OFC Nations Cup. Image: OFC via Phototek

Fiji and Solomon Islands will meet for the first of two friendly matches tomorrow as part of the build up to their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ OFC Stage 3 qualifying matches against New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea, respectively, in June.

Although there’s nothing riding on the results, both Fiji and Solomon Islands will be playing for pride, facing each other for the first time since their neck-and-neck clash at the 2016 OFC Nations Cup almost exactly one year ago.

The Fijians finished on top in the last encounter – winning 1-0 after a last minute penalty – but a dominant performance in their other group matches pushed Solomon Islands ahead of Fiji in the group ladder and through to the semi-finals.

Although, after their two losses to New Zealand, Fiji is out of contention for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Solomon Islands are still in the running and the results in their upcoming matches against Papua New Guinea will be crucial for finishing top of their group and continuing on to the OFC Stage 3 final against New Zealand.

With so much on the line for Solomon Islands in June, and Fiji’s result against New Caledonia determining the Bula Boys movement in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking, both sides will be approaching this week’s friendly matches with full focus.

Although his side will be out to avenge last year’s loss, Solomon Islands technical director and acting national team coach Felipe Vega-Arango is not concerned about the scores of the two encounters, focusing on developing combinations in his team and getting an idea of their ability against other national teams in the region.

“When we go into friendly matches the most important thing for me is not about the score, it is the team’s chemistry,” he said.

“Even though they are friendly matches, they are international games and I know Fiji is going to try to push,” he said.

“It is going to be good because we will be able to see the stage of the team and see how the players respond on the pitch.”

With his focus already switched to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, Fiji coach Christophe Gamel is looking forward to using the clashes with Solomon Islands as the first stepping stones in the development of a stronger, more structured Fiji national team.

“The first game will be hard because we’ve only had one training session to prepare but we’re not only planning for this game, we are planning for the future as well,” he said.

“We have a young team and also talented one. Seven districts are represented here. I’ve kept some senior players and brought in new ones and we need to see the potential of the players and how well they will gel in with each other and read the game.

“Those are the things I want to improve, and we need the support of the fans and everyone in Fiji to achieve this.”

Fiji: Remeuru TAKIATA, Sitiveni CAVUILAGI, Saula WAQA, Laisenia RAURA, Beniamino MATEINAQARA, Kolinio SIVOKI, Kavaia RAWAQA, Dave RADRIGAI, Laitia TUILAU, Afraz ALI, Napolioni QASEVAKATINI, Samuela TAMANISAU, Simione TAMANISAU, Vuniuci TIKOIMAIMEREKE, Amani MAKOE, Epeli SAUKURU, Madhwan GOUNDAR, Iosefo VEREVOU, Setareki HUGHES, Ravinesh KARAN SINGH, Emori RAQATA, Taniela WAQA, Zaine LINGHAM, Ravinesh RAJU, Roy KRISHNA, James HOYT

Coach: Christophe GAMEL (FRA)

Solomon Islands: Izomo BIRD (GK), Philip MANGO (GK), Zantas KABINI (GK), Nelson SALE, Joachim WAROI, Haddis AENGARI, Michael BOSO, John AETA, Emanuel POILA, Richard IROMANA, Robert LAUA, Henry FA’ARODO, Molea TIGI, Jeffry BULE, Thomas AMAISA, Timothy BAKALE, Atkin KAUA, Micah LEA’ALAFA, James NAKA, Benjamin TOTORI, Gagame FENI, Jerry DONGA, Mathias IAN

Coach: Felipe VEGA-ARANGO (ESP)

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