With only Vanuatu and Fiji in the running to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, this match is shaping up to be the unmissable encounter of the tournament.
Fiji will go into the match on the back of three straight wins, while Vanuatu have two wins and a draw.
With nine points, Fiji lead the table and, while a draw would leave them needing to beat Solomon Islands on the last day to be sure of the title, they are approaching this as a must-win clash.
Having been made to work hard for each of their victories, including a 1-0 victory over New Caledonia on Match Day 1, the Vanuatu side will be starting to feel the aches and pains that come with playing three physically draining matches in five days.
But Mermer and his coaching staff remain aware of the underlying need for a win with a tough final day encounter lined up with Papua New Guinea.
“Our decision making in the front third was poor on Tuesday but fortunately we don’t have any major injury concerns just a few niggles that you’d expect in a tournament like this. We’ll be going through an extensive recovery session today and I’m sure we’ll be right for the match with Fiji on Thursday,” says Vanuatu assistant coach Anthony Pisano.
By contrast, the Fiji players will be motivated to get a victory in front of their own fan base. On the path to this penultimate face-off, Fiji disposed of American Samoa 4-0, Papua New Guinea 3-0 and New Caledonia 2-0. None of these were easy wins for the host side, with coach Ravinesh Kumar hoping his charges can retain the determination they have showed in their three wins when they take on the in-form Vanuatu where victory will guarantee qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.
“We have to treat the match with Vanuatu the same as the three games we’ve played and won so far. Our team know the importance of our win over Papua New Guinea on Tuesday and the importance of the Vanuatu match that is coming up. The next match can go a long way to determining their destiny in this competition,” Kumar says.
In the opening match today, Solomon Islands and American Samoa continue their search for their first victories of the campaign.
Solomon Islands gave New Caledonia a real scare on Tuesday as they hauled back a 1-0 deficit before eventually succumbing to a 3-1 defeat. But the Commins Menapi-coached side’s hopes of an upset collapsed in the latter stages after being hit twice on the counter attack.
Assistant coach Gideon Omokirio said his team’s search for goals continues to be a challenge.
“We take every game with the same game plan, but we’re going to work on scoring goals. We’ve missed a lot of chances throughout the three games we’ve played. We’re going to work very hard on this at training,” he said.
The Solomon Islands side possesses speed and agility and have a strong attack in the form of Dunstan Quanafia Jnr, Joachim Kari and Misitana Samani and they could pose serious problems for an American Samoa defence that has leaked an average of three goals per game to date.
Despite the differences in the quality of the squad’s at the disposal of Menapi and his opposite number Rupeni Luvu, American Samoa can be proud of their discipline and organisation, two positives that led them to securing their precious 1-1 draw with Papua New Guinea on Match Day 2.
But Luvu’s hopes of a repeat upset have already received a setback with his son, Rueben, unavailable after opting to return to Pago Pago for his high school graduation ceremony.
Luvu SNR also awaits the return from suspension of hard-working midfielder Rafael Rocha who was sent off in the draw with Papua New Guinea.
“We will miss one of the best players in Rueben, but that’s why we have brought some of the others and hopefully they can step up to the challenge. I hope they’ll fill the gap well. We will work hard, one of our aims is to finish this tournament well so that’s what we’ll be trying to do,” he says.
The final match of the day pits Papua New Guinea against New Caledonia with both teams eager to finish as high up the standings as possible.
Papua New Guinea coach Wynton Rufer faces a dilemma as to whether he plays his full strength side acknowledging a slim mathematical chance of qualification still exists or whether he opts to build for the future.
“There’s different ways to look at the next two matches. We have three players who can play in the squad in two years’ time and one U-17 player.
“One of our options is to play all those guys. We don’t get enough international experience so the question is do we give these players the opportunity to play and give them that experience.
“We need Fiji to lose their next two games to have a chance now. It’s impossible for us and I can’t see how Fiji are going to drop points, maybe to the Solomon Islands, but it’s looking very good for Fiji,” he said.
New Caledonia coach Kamali Fitialeata said the management of fatigue may determine which team prevails today.
“The competition is long, a match every two days is difficult, but the team that recovers well, that has their mind set right, will be the one that does something positive.
“For the next match with Papua New Guinea, we’re going to continue our analysis that we started and will put things in place, but we can only wait and see how our team performs, as we had to do against Solomons,” he said.