Although both semi-finalists have already been decided in Group A at the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier 2019 tournament, Friday’s third and final match day still offers plenty of intrigue with two fascinating encounters to be played at Suva’s ANZ Stadium.
New Zealand and Solomon Islands will gear up to next week’s knock-out stage in Lautoka by testing each other in a match with group honours on offer, while in the earlier kick-off American Samoa will face their Pacific cousins Samoa with bragging right and pride on the line.
Neither American Samoa nor Samoa will need any extra motivation in the day’s opening match with the two neighbours equally keen to claim superiority over their rivals and sign off their campaigns on a high note.
Meetings between these two nations always carry a special significance according to Stephen Settle in charge of American Samoa.
“This is very important, we have so many ties family-wise and connection-wise through both islands, and we are going to do our best to make American Samoa proud,” he explained.
Based on their previous performances, Samoa will have a slight edge both in defence and attack.
While the American Samoans have leaked 18 goals in two matches and yet to find the net at the other end, Samoa’s defence showed more resilience to concede seven less goals as well as scoring against top of the table New Zealand.
It’s little surprise Settle is expecting a tough challenge.
“I’ve seen both of Samoa’s game and they’ve brought a really good team, there is some good quality, they’ve played some really good football and it’s going to be a tough. But my boys will be ready, I can guarantee,” the American Samoa coach insisted.
His Samoan counterpart Desmond Edward is also adamant his side will rise to the occasion.
“We need to win in our last match against our brothers American Samoa,” he said.
“We know it’s not an easy game for us, it’s another important game, like another final for us and I think they will prepare for this match the same way,” Edward explained.
New Zealand and Solomon Islands will face each other knowing that their places in the semi-finals are secure regardless of the result in the final match to conclude Group A in Suva.
However, that will not reduce the two teams’ desire and determination to deal a psychological blow to their opponents before the knock-out stage as well as claiming top spot on the table.
New Zealand are leading the standings due to their superior goal difference, and coach Des Buckingham is keen for his players to build on their previous two outings.
“We just want to keep adding to our performances. We’ve said after game one that we want to get better, and after game two we want to get better for game three,” he said.
“Now that we have qualified for the semis, it’s all about preparing for next week which is what we aim to do during match three,” the New Zealand coach added.
There is a healthy competition for places within the New Zealand squad and every player is desperate to impress the coach.
Despite plenty of positive signs for his team, Buckingham is wary about the upcoming test.
“Solomon Islands are always a good team, and we saw it in the U-17s recently, they beat our U-17 team 5-0,” he warned.
“We know they have good players, we saw that at the Pacific Games where we came away with the gold medal, but again we will focus on us, we will be ready and we are looking forward to it,” he said.
Solomon Islands are the only team yet to concede a goal in Group A, but coach Batram Suri admits the New Zealanders will provide a much sterner examination than their two previous opponents.
“I know how tough it is to play against New Zealand, it’s going to be very hard but we have to challenge them,” he insisted.
“We have to play against them with all the intensity we have, I believe we have got a few key players who can make a difference.
Despite their challenge ahead, Suri is adamant the match will provide his side the perfect dress rehearsal for the knock-out stage.
“To finish on top of the group is not the most important thing for me, we have qualified for the semi-finals and that’s what matters, but we still want to play well against New Zealand and it’s good for us to get a game against them to see where a we at going into the semis,” the Solomon Islands coach explained.
American Samoa vs. Samoa
Friday 27 September
Suva, FIJI KO: 15: 00
Click on link for the live stream
Referee: David YAREBOINEN (PNG)
Assistant Referee 1: Jeremy GARAE (VAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Noah KUSUNAN (PNG)
Fourth Official: Joel HOPKEN (VAN)
AMERICAN SAMOA – 1. Hengihengi IKUVALU (GK), 2. Milo TIATIA, 3. Mark TAGA’I, 4. Gabriel TAUMUA, 5. Walter PATI, 6. Takai POULI, 7. Austin KALEOPA, 8. Ueli TUALAULELEI, 9. Chris FAAMOANA, 10. Michael SETTLE, 11. Matthew TAGA’I, 12. Roy LEDOUX, 13. Joseph COLLINS, 14. James SETTLE, 15. Afa SIONE, 16. Xavior LEATUALEVAO, 17. Gogo POASA, 18. Mark ASHLEY, 23. Ken UTI (GK)
Head Coach: Stephen SETTLE (USA)
SAMOA – 1. Eti FATU (GK) 2. Tauati TANOAI, 3. Harlen RUSSELL, 4. Osa SAVELIO, 6. Vaa TAUALAI, 7. Willie SAUILUMA, 8. Michael TUMUA LEO, 9. Kawasaki SAOFAIGA, 10. Jay POPESE, 11. Ronnie BOURNE, 12. Sean ATHERTON, 13. Dilo TUMUALEO, 14. Samuelu MALO, 15. Christian ALUNI, 16. Darcy KNIGHT, 17. Fomai EUTA, 18. Jefferson FAAMATAU, 19. Jerrymiah MAIAVA, 20. Tavita GALUVAO (GK)
Head Coach: Desmond EDWARD (Samoa)
New Zealand vs. Solomon Islands
Friday 27 September
Suva, Fiji KO: 18:00
Click on link for the live stream
Referee: Mederic LACOUR (NCL)
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Fourth Official: Norbert HAUATA (NCL)
NEW ZEALAND – 1. Cameron BROWN (GK), 2. Jordan SPAIN, 3. Dylan DE JONG, 4. Hunter ASHWORTH, 5. Robert TIPELU, 6. Dane SCHNELL, 7. Myer BEVAN, 8. Jake PORTER, 9. Logan ROGERSON, 10. Clayton LEWIS, 11. Ollie WHYTE, 12. Conor TRACE, 13. Liberato CACACE, 14. Billy JONES, 15. Sean LIDDICOAT, 16. Gianni STENSNESS, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Noah BILLINGSLEY, 20. Alex PAULSEN (GK)
Head Coach: Des BUCKINGHAM (England)
SOLOMON ISLANDS – 1. Desmond TUTU (GK), 2. Junior DAVID, 3. John AETA, 4. Aengari GAGAME, 5. William KOMASI, 6. Rodney SURI, 7. Augustine WAITA, 8. Patrick TAROGA, 9. Adrian MARA, 10. Darold KAKASI, 11. Tuita MAEOBIA, 12. Harold NAUANIA (GK), 13. Alick KITALO, 14. Steve MAELASI, 15. George LEAGA, 16. Frank KABUI17. John OGE, 18. Molis Junior GAGAME, 19. Raynick LAETA, 20. Joel NANAGO (GK)
Head Coach: Batram SURI (Solomon Islands)