The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Oceania Qualifiers have reached their climactic stage and once again New Zealand and Solomon Islands will face off to discover who will advance to the next stage of qualifying.
The fixture is a repeat of the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™ Qualifiers OFC Stage Three final, played over two legs in September 2017.
On that occasion, New Zealand secured their passage to the inter-continental play-off stage, with an 8-3 aggregate win.
The damage was done in the first-leg as Chris Wood, captain for the night, inspired the All Whites in front of a raucous home crowd at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland.
Wood, who became New Zealand’s record goal scorer in the 2022 qualifying campaign, fired home a left-foot strike to give New Zealand the lead before his deft chip over Phillip Mango in the Solomons goal highlighted his quality and doubled the advantage.
Kosta Barbarouses made it 3-0 at half-time before Solomon Islands threatened a comeback with a promising start to the second period, captain Henry Fa’arodo reducing the deficit shortly after the restart.
New Zealand then took control of the tie thanks to Ryan Thomas’ clinical finish and two late free-kicks from Michael McGlinchey and Wood, completing the striker’s hat-trick, left Solomon Islands with an uphill task in the second-leg.
Despite this, 10,200 fans were in attendance for the second-leg at the Lawson Tama Stadium four days later.
New Zealand raced into a two-goal lead, Myer Bevan and an own goal from Nelson Sale giving Rickie Herbert’s side the advantage.
However, Solomon Islands fought back, with Micah Lea’alafa pulling one back from the penalty spot and Fa’arodo levelling the score in the 77th minute, also from 12 yards out.
In the end, Solomon Islands were unlucky not to pick up a win in the second-leg, with Stefan Marinovic in the New Zealand goal producing several stunning saves to ensure the All Whites did not lose the game whilst winning the tie.
Nearly five years later, the two will meet again with the same stakes on the line at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Wednesday night, 8.00pm local time (4.00am Solomon Islands time, 6.00am NZ time).
It will be a very different New Zealand side to the one from 2017, with just Wood and Marinovic available to current boss Danny Hay from that fixture.
For Solomon Islands, they have the same manager in Felipe Vega-Arango whilst Lea’alafa, goal scorer in Honiara, has taken over the captaincy. Goalkeeper Mango and others, such as Atkin Kaua, Joses Nawo and Haddis Aengari are also still involved.
However, young talent like Raphael Lea’i will hope to tip the result in a different direction on this occasion. The striker, joint top-scorer with Wood in this edition’s qualifiers, was just four days shy of his 14th birthday when the sides played out their 2-2 draw in Honiara and will be looking to play a part when the two nations battle it out to discover who advances to the next stage in the race to Qatar.