AUCKLAND, (OFC) — Fiji and Solomon Islands will meet for two friendly matches in Lautoka and Suva this week as part of the build up to their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia OFC Stage 3 qualifying matches against New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea, respectively, in June.
Almost exactly one year ago, a last minute Roy Krishna penalty gave the Fijians a 1-0 win over Solomon Islands during the OFC Nations Cup, but strong performances in their other group stage matches edged Solomon Islands ahead of Fiji on goal difference to earn them a place alongside New Zealand in the semi-finals.
After their narrow loss, the 23-man strong Solomon Islands squad will be out for revenge when they take on Fiji, but after falling one goal short of reaching the knockout stage of the region’s most prestigious competition, Fiji will also have a point to prove in the two matches.
Solomon Islands Football Federation Technical Director Felipe Vega-Arango – who is currently training the senior men’s squad – is looking forward to seeing how his side compares to their Melanesian counterparts after an eventful year of football in the region.
“Even though they are friendly matches, it is the international FIFA games and I know Fiji is going to try to push,” he said.
“It is going to be good because we will be able to see the stage of the team and see how the players respond on the pitch.”
Although both teams will be fighting for redemption, Vega-Arango is less concerned with the final score, focusing more on building his side’s strengths and combinations ahead of their World Cup qualifying matches against Papua New Guinea.
“When we go into friendly matches the most important thing for me is not about the score, it is the team’s chemistry,” he said.
“I have faith in them and I am really proud of how they are training. They are doing a wonderful job and we can see we are getting better.”
With New Zealand already gaining an unattainable lead in Group A, Russia 2018 is out of Fiji’s reach, but playing for pride in front of a passionate home crowd will make Fiji a difficult force for Solomon Islands to break down.
Hosting matches in different venues to allow football fans across the country to witness their beloved Bula Boys in action, Fiji Football Association CEO Mohammed Yusuf believes the quality football will be a great experience not only for the teams, but for Fiji’s football fans as well.
“It is going to be a good build up match for both Fiji and Solomon Islands,” he said.
“We want to give our fans from the south and the west chances to watch our Bula Boys play so we brought one match to Suva and one to Lautoka. The fans will have chance to watch some quality football as both teams will be vying for a win.”
Fiji and Solomon Islands will meet for their first encounter 7pm at ANZ Stadium in Suva before both teams head West for their second clash at Churchill Park in Lautoka on 28 May at 3pm.