Fiji bagged themselves Oceania’s qualifying berth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 after they defeated Solomon Islands 2-1 in Suva Saturday night.
Victory handed Fiji its first ever appearance at a FIFA world event and ended a 40 year wait to claim the OFC U-20 Championship title.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar says the win ended a three quarter of a century wait for the nation to step onto the global football stage.
“This is not only a victory for Fiji Football Association but the whole country. We have been waiting to play in a FIFA world event for a long time and now we have managed to do so for the very first time in 76 years.
“I would like to thank the Fiji FA executives, staffs, district associations, coaches and everyone who has assisted the team,” he says, “I also want to dedicate this win to my mentor the late Farouk Janeman.”
Match Day 5 promised fireworks and the first of two crunch matches delivered when Vanuatu took on Papua New Guinea knowing anything less than victory would end their chase for the Oceania title and coveted FIFA U-20 World Cup slot.
Their aspirations endured an early setback when Goshen Dona, under pressure by Papalau Awele, turned the ball into his own net after just 15 minutes.
But the Etienne Mermer coached Vanuatu team absorbed the early pressure and equalised through Gersom Kalsong just before half time.
Papua New Guinea bounced back in the second spell when substitute Frederick Simongi came off the bench to net their second goal after receiving a quality pass from team-mate Awele.
But Papua New Guinea’s celebrations were soon muted when a mistake by their goalkeeper Gibson Jimmy just a minute later saw Kalsong claim his second strike of the match.
The injection of Tony Kaltack proved decisive with the substitute scoring the next two Vanuatu goals to seal a comfortable 4-2 win, a result that left them needing Solomon Islands to do them a favour and beat Fiji to have any hope of scoring an upset title victory.
Anthony Pisano, the Vanuatu assistant coach was left hoping for a Solomon Islands miracle.
“It was a bit disappointing to concede quite early but again our boys have got a lot of heart and I knew we could come back if we just got them to calm down and play some good football,” he says.
“I’m happy with the final result but we made hard work of the match today. Again I thought our inconsistencies in the front third were going to come back and bite us, luckily we fought on and got those two goals in the end.
“I had hoped for a 1-0 win for the Solomon Islands but it wasn’t to be,” he says.
Wynton Rufer, the Papua New Guinea coach, applauded his side for their effort though they were on the losing side.
“The boys did very well considering our two centre backs weren’t able to play. Joshua Talau who had been suspended for two games, we were actually really lucky to have him. He was meant to be on a plane home but we couldn’t get a flight booked so he was still here.
“We asked the PNGFA President and the General Secretary if he could play and they agreed, so that was a big bonus for us because Joshua’s very quick.
“As we saw, we played with a sweeper with Joshua at the back and Vanuatu struggled with that. We got a bit lucky with the own goal and all the pressure was on Vanuatu but that’s football and in the end we could have got a result,” he says.
“To be honest I wouldn’t say I’m happy with the overall performance of the team, the boys have still got a lot to learn. There’s a lot of potential in the individual players, we just need more time to prepare.
“I would have liked a longer preparation but that’s a luxury we didn’t have. To be fair to Vanuatu, they’ve played outstanding football at this tournament I would say, with Solomon Islands and New Caledonia as the best footballing teams. But Fiji I think will represent Oceania really well at the FIFA U-20 World Cup next year,” he concluded.
With the Vanuatu result already known to them, Fiji just required a draw to confirm their champions status.
The Solomon Islands showed they were out to spoil the host nation’s party and they did just that when Atkin Kaua fired a shot past Misiwani Nairube inside the first eight minutes to silence ANZ Stadium.
But the hosts bounced back when Nickel Chand pounced on the equaliser after a handling mistake by Solomon Islands goalkeeper Philip Mango saw the left midfielder roll the ball into an empty net in the 26th minute.
Fiji nosed in front when Praneel Naidu nailed a perfect free kick to hand Fiji a 2-1 advantage just two minutes later.
Both sides threw everything into an entertaining second half but Fiji held out for a famous victory.
Commins Menapi, the Solomon Islands coach says despite delivering some quality performance in the championship they were not able to get the required results.
“I thought our players would be able to keep Fiji out but I was a little disappointed in the end. I think we played well during the tournament overall with some good football but unluckily we didn’t win all of our games.
“Compliments to our players for their efforts, it’s a good experience for them and most of them are new to OFC tournaments. Credit to the boys, they did well and in some of the games we played some great football,” he says.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar says Solomons proved to be a worthy opponent.
“They headed in this match without any pressure and they played their own game,” he says.
“The Solomons were a worthy opponent and they kept us on our toes throughout the match and will be a side to reckon with in the future. For Fiji we have done what we aimed for and now we will focus on our path to the FIFA U-20 World Cup,” he says.
In the opening match of the day, New Caledonia grabbed a lopsided 9-0 win over American Samoa.
New Caledonia’s nine unanswered goals secured third place at the tournament and confirmed American Samoa’s bottom place finish.
Kamali Fitialeata, the New Caledonia coach says the last three victories came a little late after they lost their opening two matches of the campaign.
“It was a good performance but I think it came a little too late in the piece for us. We felt today we were going to do something special here.
“But like I’ve said before, if you don’t do well in the first match the rest of the tournament becomes a little difficult,” Fitialeata says.
Tavita Taumua, American Samoa team manager labels this event as a success despite four defeats and an historic 1-1 draw with Papua New Guinea.
“The last game we didn’t finish with a score we would have liked but I think overall the tournament could be considered a success for American Samoa football.
“I think in this last game we can really see how tired these boys were. They’ve never played five games in ten days before so it was really tough for them but I think we’ve really learned a lot from the experience and it will help our association,” he says.
Taumua says the upcoming Oceania events were something they could look forward to.
“We’re looking forward to other competitions like the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers and there’s a few players here who will join up with our senior team for that next year.
“That’s why we came to this tournament to help some of these players and give them some experience ahead of that campaign. I think we’re happy with the results that we’ve had at this tournament going into that next set of qualifiers,” he concluded.
New Caledonia led 4-0 at the break as Valentine Nykeine scored a brace of goals and Raphael Oiremoin claimed a hat trick.
Josue Wathiepel, Theo Jalabert, Joseph Athale and Jim Ouka rounded off the goal scorers list in a prolific second half show by New Caledonia.
The tournament’s Golden Ball was won by Solomon Islands midfielder Atkin Kaua who bagged five goals as he and his team-mates also picked up the OFC Fair Play Award.
The Golden Ball went to mercurial Vanuatu midfielder Jacky Ruben, while Fiji goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube won the Golden Gloves Award.