Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek
Group B reaches its conclusion on Sunday when Vanuatu and Samoa meet in Auckland, with a place in the semi-finals up for grabs at the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier 2023.
Having both registered one win and one defeat in their two matches thus far, victory either way will ensure progression to the last four, whilst defeat means an early trip home.
Vanuatu responded well following their opening match defeat to Solomon Islands, powering their way past Tonga on Thursday with a 4-0 win. Samoa, who had looked impressive in their own victory against Tonga, fell to a powerful Solomon Islands team 3-0, despite playing against ten men for the majority of the 90 minutes.
With Solomon Islands looking likely to top Group B, second place will offer the reward of a semi-final against 2020’s Olympic qualifier, New Zealand, who finished first in Group A after their 3-1 victory against Fiji earlier in the week.
In Group B’s second fixture of the day, Solomon Islands will look to complete a 100% record in the group stage when they take on Tonga. A draw will be enough to finish first in the section and even a defeat – barring an avalanche of goals – should still ensure they finish in top spot heading into the knockout stages.
Having impressed in their two 3-0 victories, Solomon Islands will be hoping to build momentum for a likely semi-final clash against the second-placed side in Group A, Fiji.
Head Coach Eddie Marahare was delighted with his side’s performance against Samoa having gone down a man in the first-half.
“I’m happy with the performance. As you said, going a player down, we still managed to keep the team intact even with a player less. For me, it shows great character from our players, so i’m very happy with that performance,” Marahare said.
Star forward Raphael Lea’i – who plays for club side FK Velež Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina – is in with a chance of making it to New Zealand in time to give Solomons a major boost in their bid to qualify for the Olympics.
“Arrangements are in place but it depends on the flight. As soon as they confirm the flight I’ll be able to confirm whether he will play on Sunday or for the semi-final,” explained Marahare.
“If Rafa is present, then I’m sure the boys will be happy. They all look to Rafa as a great example and I’m sure he’ll bring a lot of confidence to the team.”
With progress to the semi-finals all but secured, Marahare sees an opportunity to rotate his squad when they face Tonga at The Trusts Arena.
“We’re going to rest some players to avoid injuries and give some of the other players in the team a chance to play in this tournament.”
OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier 2023
Sunday, September 3
Vanuatu v Samoa
Tonga v Solomon Islands