Oceania giants Tahiti edged past their fiercest Pacific rivals Solomon Islands in a tense and high quality title decider at OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup 2019 in Tahiti, to secure qualification for their fifth consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
Tahiti 4-3 Solomon Islands
Right from the outset the game established itself as a heavyweight contest.
Bilikiki unsettled the Tahitians who were unable to find their trademark aerial rhythm in the opening stages.
Playing in his last international, a fired up James Naka led from the front for Solomon Islands, scrapping for every ball.
The outstanding Kwai Island trio of forward Max Fa’ari and the formidable back pair of Allen Farobo and Roy Mafane, were immense in defence and dangerous on the break.
The few chances that Tiki Toa had were largely off target and the atmosphere grew more tense as the teams went to the break all square.
Midway through the second half, Solomon Islands silenced the expectant local crowd, when a sensational counter attack and finish from Farobo gave Bilikiki the lead, and a dramatic upset looked on the cards.
Patrick Tepa’s free kick got things back on an even keel for Naea Bennett’s side, and moments later, there was relief all around Parc Aorai Tini Hau when Heiarii Tavanae finished neatly, after Teaonui Tehau’s long ranger came back off the bar.
Tavanae had his second with an angled drive past veteran Fred Hale, but Gideon Omokirio’s side stayed in touch when McPhillip Aisa slotted home after an uncharacteristic distribution error by Jonathan Torohia.
Moments later came perhaps the defining moment of the final – when Solomon Islands forward Nicholas Muri’s shot towards an empty net bounced off team mate Kiven Koipala, away to safety.
Moments later Heimanu Taiurui volleyed home to restore the two goal cushion for Tiki Toa and the game looked safe for Naea’s Bennet side
In the dying seconds however, Mafane finished off a rapid counter attack, scoring for the fifth consecutive match.
Tahiti were then able to count down the clock, enabling the 1500-strong crowd to launch the celebrations.
Tiki Toa coach Naea Bennett admitted his side was pushed all the way in a dramatic final.
“What a match, a real grand final and it’s great for the people watching it here today,” he said.
“Solomon Islands are a very good team, they proved that during our first game and proved it again today.
“Congratulations to this team who didn’t give up and fought from the beginning till the end. They made us doubt ourselves a little bit so we are very happy to win this game,” added Bennett.
His Solomon Islands counterpart, Gideon Omokirio was gracious in defeat.
“We actually executed our game-plan for today but unfortunately we lost by a goal. I’m very proud of them, they did what they were told and we performed the way we wanted to.
“The difference is technical ability. That was obvious from the start,” said the Bilikiki coach.
“Through their technical ability they were able to maintain pressure, trusting their ability to control the ball and that’s why they edged us today.
“Beach soccer is growing very strongly in the islands and we are going to build from today and continue to work very hard to return and finish by becoming champions again,” insisted Omikiori.
Vanuatu 7-8 New Caledonia
The curtain raiser to the main event between Vanuatu and New Caledonia for the bronze medal also lived up to expectations.
Following Vanuatu’s 14-7 win over Les Cagous in the group phase, the onus was on the New Caledonian to rise to occasion.
And Felix Tagawa’s men well and truly did.
With Vanuatu failing to recapture their form of the previous two matches, New Caledonia took full advantage, grabbing a 3-1 lead at the first interval.
Anchored by Jacky Weinane and the outstanding Rocky Nyikeine in goal, they frustrated Vanuatu and were effective on the break to take a 5-2 lead into third period.
Following a red card to Octav Meltecoin and injury to fellow playmaker Don Mansale, it looked all over for Vanuatu.
However, with the score at 7-3 early in the third period, Wilson Marango’s team surged back into the match with four unanswered goals, taking the encounter into extra time.
Impressive as the comeback was, the New Caledonians had the final word when Jeremie Dokunengo fired home to secure the bronze medal for his side.