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Group A favourites advance to semis

Solomon Islands Augustine Waita scoring against Samoa (OFC Media)

Solomon Islands and New Zealand have both produced thoroughly professional performances to remain on track in their quest of becoming Oceania’s sole representative at next year’s Tokyo Olympics by cruising into the semi-finals of the OFC Men’s Qualifying tournament with a match day to spare.

Meanwhile Samoa and American Samoa’s Olympic hopes have come to an abrupt end, leaving the Pacific cousins to play for their pride when they face each other in their final Group A match on Friday in Suva.

Samoa 0-5 Solomon Islands

On the back of their dominant display against American Samoa, the Batram Suri – coached Solomon Islanders kicked off their second match against Samoa in a confident manner, forcing their opponents on the back foot from the outset.

Adrian Mara was especially lively during the early exchanges with his darting runs on the left wing.

Samoa’s defensive resistance was broken in 16th minute, when Darold Kakasi beat the offside trap before slotting home to open the scoring.

Agustine Waita was presented with a simple tap-in to double his side’s advantage following some lovely composure inside the box by Frank Kabui, followed by a huge defensive blunder which gave Waita another easy finish allowing the Melanesians to take a three-goal cushion into the half-time break.

Eti Fatu pulled off a couple of good saves from Mara and Aengari GAGAME, but the Samoa keeper was at fault to miss a cross from Waita, which turned into an easy close range conversion for Mara in the 68th minute.

Deep into injury time and with the result beyond any doubt, Patrick Taroga sealed the 5-0 win for the Solomon Islands U-23 side with a cool and clinical finish one-on-one with Fatu.

The win gave Suri’s men maximum six points from their two matches and a top two finish in Group A regardless of the results on Friday’s final match day in Suva.

And the Solomon Islands coach couldn’t hide his delight.

“We are very proud to make the semi-finals, and I’m really happy with the performance of the boys, especially since when I saw Samoa’s opening performance against New Zealand I thought we will have a real intense match against them, but my boys really stepped up to dominate the match,” he enthused.

“We wasted too many chances against American Samoa and we have been working on our finishing, we need to put our chances away in this competition so it was good to see the improvement.

“We also worked on our transition from defence to attack and our possession play and today it all worked really well,” Suri added.

Meanwhile Desmond Edward in charge of Samoa was visibly upset by his team’s effort.

“Disappointed about the result and the performance, we need to learn from some of our basic mistakes that cost us,” he lamented.

“It’s hard to take because we worked so hard between the matches to improve but the way we played today, the ball watching and simple mistakes, we just can’t accept,” Edward said.

New Zealand 12-0 American Samoa

With a commanding win over Samoa behind them, New Zealand set out to continue their march towards Tokyo by taking on American Samoa in the day’s second match.

Head coach Des Buckingham has made wholesale changes to his starting line-up to test the depth of his squad and his decision with quickly justified courtesy of a well-struck 4th minute drive from the edge of the box by the impressive Clayton Lewis.

Soon it was 2-nil as Logan Rogerson accepted the invitation to tap into the empty net from close range following a pass from  Ollie Whyte, who himself got into the act by smashing past Ken Uti in the 19th minute.

Lewis contributed with another brilliant long range strike just past the half-hour mark to help his side to comfortable four goal lead at the break.

Buckingham made two half-time substitutions bringing on Myer Bevan and Ben Waine, both of whom made a rapid impact.

Bevan was the first to get on the scoresheet with a header in the 51st minute closely followed by Waine three minutes later.

Dylan de Jong also contributed before Waine grabbed his second as the floodgates have opened.

However, the rest of the match was dominated by Bevan who used his goal poaching instincts, popping up at the right place at the right time to strike four more times to bag a spectacular five-goal haul.

Due to their 12-0 win the Kiwis leapfrogged the Solomon Islands into top spot in Group A on goal difference before their meeting on the final match day, but even more importantly Des Buckingham’s men have cruised into next week’s knock-out stage alongside their Melanesian rivals.

“Today was very pleasing, it was as professional performance, we have talked about the way we want to play and we just showcased a good version of that here and it’s really pleasing for the players who put in a lot of work in the past couple of days especially, and to score 12 goals at international level is always pleasing,” the New Zealand coach explained.

“The boys who came in stepped in and did the job and that’s the beauty of the way we have been trying to play for the last couple of months.

“The aim is for any player who comes in to have the capability of adapting to the system we play and that was actually my 20th game in charge of the age group teams so it was a nice way to round them up,” added the New Zealand coach.

His American Samoa counterpart Stephen Settle has admitted facing New Zealand was part of a steep learning curve for his side.

“New Zealand have a lot of quality and it showed and we need to see this level more often if we are to raise the standards in American Samoa. It hurts a little now, but it’s going to give us a better idea back home what the standard is and work towards that,” said Settle.

“The start of the second half was real tough, we had a couple of boys  with some knocks and we had to do an early  substitution in the second half and the boys di what they could,” the American Samoa coach added.

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