Both Solomon Islands and New Zealand have produced dominant performances to get their OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifying campaigns off to a flying start in Fiji.
In the tournament’s opener at Suva’s ANZ National Stadium the Solomon Islanders cruised past American Samoa before the Kiwis flexed their muscles to overcome a determined Samoa outfit.
Batram Suri’s U-23 Solomon Islands team got off to a perfect start against their Group A rivals American Samoa with two goals inside the opening 10 minutes courtesy of Augustine Waita and Fiji based forward Darold Kakasi.
Despite their two goal cushion the Solomon Islanders kept pushing forward with Waita coming close to scoring in front of goal before Kakasi smashing his well struck drive against the crossbar.
Any frustration caused by those near misses was alleviated courtesy of a cool finish by Patrick Taroga who was nicely set up by Adrian Mara to extend the Melanesian side’s lead in the 33rd minute.
American Samoa keeper Hengihengi Ikuvalu produced a string of saves to keep the scores respectable but he couldn’t deny Mara getting on the scoresheet following a brilliant solo run before the half-time break.
A couple of minutes into the second half Mara grabbed his second from close range before turning into provider to set up Waita for his brace on the hour mark to seal the win for the Solomon Islands.
Coach Batram Suri was pleased with his side’s dominant display but he admitted his players must work on their finishing in front of goal.
“We tried to play good football and in the first half we should have scored five or six more goals, maybe the finishing wasn’t there because it was the first game, but a win is a win and I’m happy with the result,” he said.
“We can’t waste our opportunities and we need to keep playing good football and keep scoring goals if we want to compete in this tournament.
“But I’m very happy with the style of play we produced, it’s important we learn from our mistakes and we improve,” added Suri.
Meanwhile his American Samoa counterpart Stephen Settle wasn’t looking for excuses.
“It was a tough match, there is lot of quality in the Solomon Islands team and they showed it today,” he said.
“We had a rough start, lost our confidence early, but we know this is the standard, this is how we need to play and this is what we have to keep working towards.
“We need to continue to work and trust the process, the boys know what we need to do to play at this level and it’s a great opportunity for us to play the higher ranked teams in OFC, So we are going to work and come back out and try to do better,” Settle explained.
In the day’s second match New Zealand needed 10 minutes to open the scoring through a well composed finish inside the box by Wellington Phoenix striker Ben Waine, who produced a pinpoint cross to set up his skipper Logan Rogerson with a header for the Kiwis’ second just two minutes later.
Des Buckingham’s team made it 3-nil with a close range finish from Myer Bevan, before Samoa responded just before the half-time break with Michael Tumua Leo’s effort inside the New Zealand box.
In-form Samoa keeper Eti Fatu made a number of brilliant saves but he couldn’t do anything to prevent the New Zealanders’ fourth goal tapped in by Waine after a well constructed team move.
Substitute Ollie Whyte slotted home to extend his side’s lead to four goals in the 8oth minute before Waine completed his hat-trick four minutes later from the penalty spot, following a handball inside the Samoa box.
Despite the convincing scoreline New Zealand coach Des Buckingham was adamant his team was made to work hard for the win .
“We don’t expect to have it all our way when we come to the Islands anymore, and you only need to look back through the previous tournaments, the U-17s and U-20s and the last time we came with the young U-23s, performance-wise all the other nations have improved hugely and the results are a lot closer than they ever have been,” he insisted.
“Des (Desmond Edward) has set Samoa up very well, they were extremely well organised, well coached and they have some good players but we got the result, that was important but we have got a few more gears to get through yet as this tournament progresses,” added Buckingham.
Samoa coach Edward was also pleased with his players performance despite the loss.
“As I said before we are here to compete and you could see the boys did their best and even though we lost I’m really happy with them because they gave all they had and they did well,” he insisted.
– OFC Media