Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek
With less than 12 months to go until the opening ceremony at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, four sides remain in with a chance of representing Oceania on one of the world’s largest sporting stages.
New Zealand, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji comprise the final four as the semi-finals get underway this afternoon in Auckland. The hosts will take on Vanuatu in the first of the two matches, with Group B winners Solomon Islands facing Fiji later in the evening.
Due to a shortened Group A fixture schedule, hosts New Zealand have played just the once but looked impressed in their 3-1 victory over Fiji, especially during a dominant first-half.
Their semi-final opponents Vanuatu secured their berth in the knockout stages with a solid win against Samoa and will hoping to cause an upset as they pursue their dream of a first ever Olympic football tournament appearance.
In the day’s second semi-final, the impressive Solomon Islands – fresh off a 100% winning record in their group – face Fiji, who overcame Papua New Guinea 2-0 at the weekend to advance. Fiji will be looking to qualify for their second Olympic football tournament, having represented Oceania at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero.
For the Solomon Islands, they had been hoping to include Bosnian-based, star forward Raphael Lea’i in their ranks but it now appears likely he will only be available if they defeat Fiji and advance to Saturday’s final.
Despite having played one less game than their opponents, Fiji Head Coach Rob Sherman is keen to ensure the focus remains on his own side’s preparation ahead of the crunch encounter.
“In tournament play, time between games is limited so ensuring players are fully recovered and preparing to play a new opponent is always a fine balancing act, however, I feel we are in a decent space and ready for the game,” Sherman said.
“In many regards that is a matter of swings and roundabouts in that they have had one more game familiarising themselves with their team model which is advantageous but also one more game can cost in terms of energy expenditure which is a disadvantage.
“So given I do not have any idea of their recovery and preparation processes, we have just focused on our methodology and not considered that we have an advantage,” he continued.
With their opponents having won three from three in their group stage campaign, Sherman and his coaching team have been keeping a keen eye on the Solomon Islands with so much on the line.
“I have watched their games against Vanuatu and Tonga live and studied other footage. As a rule in tournaments I always analyse the opposition for every game. Obviously that doesn’t mean they won’t change anything but at least as a coach you have some level of expectation,” he said.
With the preparations for all teams coming to an end, attention now turns to the action on the pitch with a place in Saturday’s final at North Harbour Stadium up for grabs.
OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier 2023
New Zealand v Vanuatu
Go Media Stadium Mt Smart
Wednesday, September 6 – 3:00pm
Solomon Islands v Fiji
Go Media Stadium Mt Smart
Wednesday, September 6 – 7:00pm