They say form is temporary and class in permanent. That adage rang true for the Solomon Islands who have qualified for the semi-finals at the Olympic Women’s Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier in Apia.
Talismanic forward Ileen Pegi had been quiet in front of goal in the first two Group matches but with the Solomon Islands needing at least a draw to guarantee a semi-final spot, the forward struck a hat-trick to secure a 3-1 win over Fiji and top spot in the Group.
Fiji also progress as runner-up and will face New Zealand in the semi-finals on Friday.
The result eliminates Pacific Games champions Papua New Guinea who defeated American Samoa 9-0 in the group’s other final group match.
A draw for Fiji would have guaranteed them top spot in Group A, avoiding tournament favourites New Zealand. However, the Solomon Islands weren’t about to just settle for a point, showing from the start they were in the attacking mood and coming close on several occasions in the first 10 minutes.
A soggy pitch made it difficult for both sides in the first-half and it played a big role in the first goal of the match. Pegi capitalised on a slip from a Fijian defender to score a brilliant goal in the 16th minute, firing into the top corner from just inside the box.
Chasing the game and top spot in the group, Fiji found themselves exposed in defence. Had it not been for a great save from goalkeeper Selai Tikoisuva in the 40th minute, the score could have been more.
A brilliant counterattack in stoppage time had the Solomon Islands on the scoresheet again, Pegi bagging a brace to give her side a 2-0 half-time lead.
Whatever was said at the break seemed to spark Fiji into life in the second-half but it took until to the 80th minute to break the Solomon Islands down. Fiji’s Madeline Arukau was taken out by Margaret Koefela in the box, with referee Campbell-Kirk Kawana-Waugh awarding a penalty.
Narieta Leba then stepped up, slotting the goal home to set up a tense finish.
With minutes remaining in regular time Fiji almost had their equalizer but Koefela made up for her earlier mistake with a brilliant save to deny the Fijians.
Captain Pegi eased any nerves for the Solomon Islands, converting from the penalty spot in the 94th minute to complete her hat-trick and clinch top spot in Group A for her side.
Solomon Islands: 3 (Ileen PEGI 16’, 45+1’, 90+4′)
Fiji: 1 (Narieta LEBA 80’)
Papua New Guinea have beaten a spirited American Samoa 9-0 with captain Marie Kaipu lethal up front, netting seven goals
Needing to win by at least seven goals at the start of the match to have any chance of making the semi-finals, Papua New Guinea had an attacking mindset from the beginning and Kaipu got in behind the defence early, rounding Destiny Kapisi in the eighth minute to slot home the opener. Four minutes later Kaipu beat the offside trap to make it two, and in a repeat move seven minutes later the talismanic striker had her hat-trick.
Six minutes from half-time American Samoa defender Precious Toilolo was sent off for a deliberate handball on the line. Kaipu looking for her fourth goal, blasted wide from the penalty spot.
Papua New Guinea would have known the odds were against them when they went to the break with the Solomon Islands in control against Fiji, but they made a blistering start to the second half with Kaipu netting her fourth in the opening minute.
Playing with 10 players for the entire second half was never going to be easy for the American Samoan players, but they stuck to their task and almost scored through their best player Morgan Patea 12 minutes into the second half – her shot hitting the left-hand post.
Kaipu added her fifth of the game moments later and her sixth in the 63rd minute. Patea came close to scoring for American Samoa on a couple of occasions and was dangerous every time she touched the ball.
In the 82nd minutes Papua New Guinesa won their second penalty of the game, and for a change there was a different goal scorer, Phyllis Pala slotting home before Cynthia Banita completed the scoring with a couple of minutes left on the clock.
American Samoa: o
Papua New Guinea: 9 ( Marie KAIPU 8’, 13’, 20’, 46’, 57’, 63’, 66’, Phylis PALA 82’, Cynthia BANITA 87’)