OFC: Having won their opening games of the OFC U-16 Championship by considerable margins, when Solomon Islands meet New Zealand this afternoon it could well be the encounter that decides the standings in Group A.
Meanwhile Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu are going in search of their first points after both sides lost their opening matches of the competition.
For Papua New Guinea a slow start cost them against the host who scored three first half goals while their visitors tried unsuccessfully to stem the flow.
While Anthony Pakakota’s side improved for the second half, they still managed to concede twice more forcing the coach to think long and hard about his defensive strategy going forward.
“Definitely we need to continue to do more work on our ball recovery and defence. It was one area where we lacked and Solomons was able to quickly play balls forward and switch us from one side to the other side,” Pakakota said.
“We were too slow to recover.
“These are very young boys, some of them 15 and under and it’s their very first time to play at this level. We just have to go back and work hard on our defensive recovery.”
For Vanuatu, conceding eight goals certainly wasn’t the outcome they had expected despite taking on the defending champions New Zealand.
The side struggled to keep up with the organised waves of attacks from the Kiwis who played the majority of the match at a high pace and intensity, helped in part by the cooler conditions than expected.
The slippery surface didn’t help the Vanuatu cause either, as the technical, ground-based football they are accustomed too wasn’t able to be employed to the degree that would have liked.
Although disappointed the first loss was such a heavy one, coach Joel Rarua is confident the side will lift their spirits, and their performance, against Papua New Guinea.
“The team is doing better since the defeat to New Zealand,” he said.
“We’ve been working on reorganising ourselves and adjusting the team and worked on what we didn’t do in the first match so I believe it will be better for us and we’re looking forward to the game against Papua New Guinea.”
As for their opponents, Rarua believes he has done the required analysis to compete well against them.
“We watched their first game and I’ve seen their strengths and how I can organise my team. I think we can do well against them, the boys are ready for them.”
The day’s second encounter will be a big one with Solomon Islands taking on the defending champions New Zealand in a match which will likely decide the top spot in the Group A standings.
After registering big wins in their opening games both sides will be keen to gain an advantage over the other in this encounter.
While New Zealand are generally considered favourites given their record in this competition, the Solomon Islands can’t be ruled out.
Stanley Waita has been working hard with his squad over the past four to five months and the cohesiveness and intuitiveness that comes with spending that amount of time together was evident in that opening encounter.
However they’re well aware that getting points off New Zealand will take a different approach.
“We know to expect a difficult match against New Zealand,” Waita said.
“I don’t know much about the New Zealand team but as we all know, they’re the powerhouse in Oceania.
“My boys will be prepared to take on the junior All Whites, especially playing in front of our home fans.
“We’ll work on what we can do to play against New Zealand but we are on for it.”
For New Zealand, every game is a tough one even with the perennial favourites tag according to coach José Figueira.
And despite a big win in their opener, plus the addition of the remaining members of their squad, Figueira knows to be weary of the unpredictable Solomon Islands style.
“It’s been a great start for us and I think the boys after coming in and playing in their debut, showed some real qualities,” Figueira said of his charges.
“They saw half of the Solomons opening game, they’ve seen the big crowd and their opposition so I think that’s motivation for them to play the second game like they did the first.
Figueira believes catching part of the Solomon Islands’ match against Papua New Guinea can only prove beneficial as it gives some insight into their opponent.
“I think it’s always good to be able to watch who you’re going to play next and we’re going to see a team that’s really aggressive and skilful and wanting to attack and quickly,” he said.
“For us we’ll try to replicate the first game; control the tempo, play at our speed and try to be organised with the ball to deny them those moments that they looked really dangerous in during their first match.”