A second-half free kick from Tauhiti Keck proved the difference for Tahiti as they claimed a valuable 1-0 win over Solomon Islands as OFC Stage 3 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTm Qualifying opened in Papeete.
From a wide position with little angle to work with, Keck curled his 53rd minute set piece around the small defensive wall and through a crowded penalty area with Solomon Islands goalkeeper Philip Mango put off by Tahitian runners across his line of sight.
The goal brought relief to the home side who had dominated the first half but spurned chance after chance, especially in a frantic opening 20 minutes.
The win also provides a valuable buffer in Group B for Tahiti who will travel to Honiara for a return fixture on Sunday without captain Alvin Tehau and defensive stalwart Jonathan Tehau.
“It’s great for our confidence to take all three points tonight as we have a long trip to Honiara coming up and we will be without some key players for that match,” said Tahiti coach Ludovic Graugnard.
“I thought in the first half we should’ve scored maybe one or two goals. I think we were very strong defensively. I asked them to use the wings more in the second half as we our best opportunities came that way in the first half.
“We had a lot of young players tonight and four players making their debut. It’s a pleasure to play for your country at home. We haven’t played at home in three years I think so it was a chance for us to enjoy it.”
Despite Tahiti’s dominance, at least in terms of the sheer weight of chances, Solomon were never out of the game with Henry Fa’arodo doing his best to spark something in midfield and Moffat Kilifa impressing down their left hand flank.
The visitors’ best chance fell to Joses Nawo with the match still scoreless as he tried to lob a stranded Tahiti goalkeeper from close to 40 metres out only for the top of the crossbar to encapsulate his side’s frustration as Tahiti scored the winner just a few minutes later.
Solomon Islands coach Moses Toata believed his side had enough chances to take something back to Honiara but was ultimately gracious in defeat.
“I was quite confident of the team going into the second half, and we did create plenty of chances. With all due respect to Tahiti we had most of the possession in the second half.”
“Tahiti were better technically than us although we had the speed. We couldn’t match the accuracy of the play and their ball movement was better than ours.”
Solomon Islands’ night was further dampened with an injury to goalkeeper Philip Mango that now puts the custodian in doubt for Sunday’s match.
Match day one continues on Saturday as Oceania champions New Zealand welcome New Caledonia to QBE Stadium in Auckland. That opening Group A match kicks off at 3pm (NZT).