Solomon Islands have retained their Oceania crown and secured their place in next year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania by overcoming a brave and determined New Zealand outfit on penalties following a thrilling OFC Futsal Nations Cup final in New Caledonia
Solomon Islands 5-5 New Zealand (7-6 on penalties)
Solomon Islands and New Zealand have played out the best and most exciting Futsal games ever in Oceania’s history in Saturday night’s Futsal Nations Cup title decider at Paita’s Arena du Sud.
Looking to secure their berth in their first ever World Cup, the Futsal Whites took an early lead with captain Micky Malivuk showing brilliant awareness to send a looping shot from deep inside his own half over Kurukuru keeper Anthony Talo who was left stranded off his line.
Kiwi keeper Elias Billeh produced two crucial saves to deny Jeffrey Bule and George Stevenson while Alvin Hou blasted two of his attempts over the crossbar as the defending champions set up camp inside their opponents’ half, peppering the New Zealand goal in their search for an equaliser.
Following the Kurukuru onslaught, Oban Hawkins offered some relief to his defence by forcing a couple of saves from Talo on the counter, helping New Zealand to hold onto their narrow advantage at the end of a tense first period.
Solomon Islands did find a way through after the restart with James Egeta smashing home after being set-up by skipper Elliott Ragomo’s free-kick.
Billeh came to the Futsal Whites’ rescue with a great reflex save on his line to prevent a deflection from Luc Saker for an own goal.
New Zealand restored their lead against the run of play courtesy of Malivuk’s sensational strike rocketing into the top left corner.
However the reigning champions weren’t done yet with Hou restoring parity with a perfectly placed low drive before Jordi Ditfort grabbed one at the other end to keep the Futsal Whites nose in front.
Egeta crashed his attempt against the post as the Kurukuru went close to reply almost instantly.
Desperately searching for an equaliser coach Vinicius Laite opted to use the powerplay with a flying keeper but his plan backfired with Josh Margetts finding the empty net from inside his own half.
But the drama didn’t end there, and with less than 2 minutes on the clock Hou pulled a goal back for the Solomon Islands to set up a grandstand finish.
And with just 20 seconds to go the Solomon Islanders showed their class with Arnold Maeluma netting to send the decider into extra time.
Bule drove home to put Kurukuru in the driving seat following the restart before Stephen Ashby-Peckham gave a lifeline to the Kiwis with a composed finish at the other end.
Manickum forced a good save from Talo in the second period of extra time, and with penalties beckoning it was New Zealand’s turn risking the powerplay but to no avail.
Despite some frantic end-to-end action in the final minute the scores remained deadlocked sending the title decider into a shoot-out.
With three world cups behind them the experience of the Solomon Islands came to the fore when it mattered the most with both skipper Ragomo and Bule easily converting from the spot while Ashby-Peckham and Lucas Silva succumbing to the pressure.
Following his side’s dramatic win, the Kurukuru coach couldn’t hide his emotions.
“At the moment I have no words to describe what I’m feeling,” Laite said.
“I want to congratulate Marvin (Eakins) the New Zealand coach, what he is doing with his team is phenomenal. Everybody thought it was going to be an easy game and you saw how much of a battle that was.
“New Zealand will go to the next world cup if he keeps doing what he is doing and FIFA should start looking at OFC and maybe send two teams for the World Cup from here because the level and quality displayed here today was amazing. I’m happy for my team and very sad for New Zealand,” the Kurukuru coach added.
Meanwhile devastated Futsal Whites coach Marvin Eakins remained gracious in defeat.
“It’s been quite a journey the last couple of years, the guys put in so much hard work, put it out on the court couldn’t ask any more from them in that game,” he said.
“It was a great final, we will look back at it maybe we could have done this or that but at the end of the day sometimes it can be out of your hands and we did what we could, I’m glad that the Solomons are going, they are a great team and I know they will represent us well at the World Cup, added the New Zealand coach.
New Caledonia 5-5 Tahiti (6-8 on penalties)
Tahiti clinched third place by overcoming the hosts on penalties following a thrilling bronze medal encounter.
Following a typically tense opening between the two francophone rivals New Caledonia drew first blood with Jean-Michel Poadae finishing off a swift counter-attacking move.
Les Cagous keeper Ronan Euzen produced an acrobatic diving save to keep out a well-struck shot by Antoine Tave before stepping up again to deny Teaonui Tehau at the near post.
Euzen came to his side’s rescue with another classy save to frustrate Akareva Riaria but he couldn’t prevent Raiamanu Tetauria levelling the scores with a sweetly timed strike from long range.
New Caledonia captain Cedrick Humuni hit the roof of the net following a corner-kick to restore his side’s lead going into the half-time break.
Aito Arii keeper Gerard Tetauira made three great saves in quick succession at the start of the second period before Olivier Hirihiri grabbed his seventh of the tournament to bring the Tahitians level.
French Polynesian celebrations were cut short however by Humuni’s quick reply.
David Auti picked out the the top right corner with a lovely strike to reinstate the status quo before pivot Tave finished a superbly constructed team goal to give Tahiti the lead for the first time in the match.
The hosts fought back courtesy of Eric Saihuliwa and despite some near misses at both ends during a frantic finale neither side was able to break the deadlock sending the match into extra-time.
Saihuliwa gave the lead to the hosts to kick off the first period of extra time before Tave replied to get back on level terms once again.
With no further addition to the score in the second period of extra time the teams were forced to settle the outcome with a penalty shoot-out which was won by Tathiti with all three of their players, Tehau, Teivarii Kaiha and Tehaunui Barsinas on target with their spotkicks, while New Caledonia skipper Humuni missing his conversion.
Aito Arii coach Heifara Dean was delighted to finish the tournament on a high note.
“We are really happy to finish in third place and congratulations to New Caledonia as well,” he said.
“It means a lot to our team and players, most of whom come from some of the poorest parts of the city so this is a big deal to them and we are very happy,” the Tahiti coach explained.
Meanwhile Les Cagous coach Juliano Schmeling couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“Yes definitely disappointed, we had some opportunities to score during normal time and extra time as well and again we couldn’t put the ball into the net. Congratulations to Tahiti it was an amazing game but unfortunately we couldn’t finish in third position,” said the New Caledonia coach.
“New Caledonia is improving as they showed it throughout the tournament, so I’m happy with the performance but also disappointed that we couldn’t get the third position,” added Schmeling.
Vanuatu 4-6 Fiji
Elsewhere, Fiji edged past Vanuatu in a keenly contested encounter to claim 5th place.
Iosefo Verevou opened the scoring for Fiji with an accurate low drive at the near post from Shahil Dave’s kick-in in the 3rd minute but Vanuatu produced a swift reply courtesy of Rhydley Napau.
Midway through the first period Kevin Donald took advantage of an uncharacteristic defensive error by Fijian skipper Setareki Hughes before Verevou grabbed his second and Anish Khem followed up for the Fijians’ third as the lead seesawed between the two Melanesian rivals.
David Kalo pounced on another defensive mistake to level the scores but Verevou had the last say in the opening half by completing his hat-trick to give his side a narrow advantage at the break.
Verevou turned provider early in the second period by setting up Kailova Tivulu at the back post with a pinpoint diagonal pass.
Dave smashed against the crossbar and Verevou forced a diving save from Antonio Norman before Khem put a rebound of the woodwork wide despite being unchallenged in front of the empty net as Fiji pressed forward looking to put the result beyond any doubt.
Akulia Mateisuva’s stretched out leg came to his side’s rescue at the other end, but the Fiji keeper couldn’t prevent Vanuatu legend Ben Hungai narrowing the gap in his last ever match for the national team.
Khem chipped over the keeper with 40 seconds to go to secure the win to the delight of his coach.
“The team finished fifth and we only lost to the futsal powerhouses of the region, Tahiti and the Solomons but few were focused on winning the other matches and we are here finishing fifth which is still a good result for us,” said Mira Sahib.
Meanwhile retiring skipper Ben Hungai was emotional at the end of a remarkable career.
“Today is a moving moment for me, playing my last game with the national team I love so much,” he said.
“I leave a lot of good memories on the court and I’m really proud with my last game and scoring my last OFC goal, despite losing I’m very proud,” Hungai added.
Golden Ball – Dylan Manickum (NZL)
Golden Boot – Nicky Malivuk (NZL) Olivier Hirihiri (TAH)
Golden Gloves – Anthony Talo (SOL)
Fair Play Award – American Samoa