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Solomon Islands made history and want more

Solomon Islands have already achieved greatly by reaching the final of the OFC U-16 Championship, qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, a first in their history, but they could do even better if they were to win the final on 22 September against New Zealand.

Solomon Islands U-16 team celebrating a goal against Fiji

Photos courtesy of OFC/Phototek

Fabrice Deschamps
From Amsterdam

By beating Fiji in the semi-finals of the OFC U-16 Championship, the Solomon Islands secured a spot at the next FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru next year. For the first time, the Solomons will play ar a World Cup. A huge achievement for this archipelago of just 600,000 inhabitants.

They will bow play the final against New Zealand, who they beat 5-0 in the group stage. Were they to beat them again, they would win the championship for the first time in their history.

Watch the final Solomon Islands vs New Zealand on mycujoo on 22 September

The road to the final looked pretty much like paradise for the Islanders. In the group stage they had a more than impressive record: 3 wins, 15 goals scored, none conceded. The festival started with Papua New Guinea who faced the Solomon storm from early in the game: at half-time they were already three-nil up, and finished the job in the second half with 2 more goals.

The pace of the forwards struck everybody and the efficiency of Raphael Le’ai was stunning: the Marist FC futsal player, who had not played outdoor at a high level so far, scored four goals... on his birthday on top of it!

The wonder kid was obviously happy about the result, but already projecting to the next big game of the tournament against New Zealand. “We started slow in our opener against PNG as it is our first time to wear the national jersey in this code. But that experience has prepared us well for this rest of our matches in our campaign with an objective to create history for the country to reach the FIFA World Cup for the first time”.

Prophetic? Maybe. One sure thing is that taking on the Ogres of the OFC, New Zealand, the Katukatus completely outplayed their opponents, scoring five goals again and not conceding a single one. To give you an idea of the performance, this was the heaviest defeat for the All Whites in OFC competition since a 4-0 loss in the 1980 OFC Cup.

The last game of the group against Vanuatu seemed to be a formality then, and a duplicate of the first two: 5-0 at the final whistle, two more goals for Le’ai, bringing his total to seven already...

With that amazing start in mind, the Fijians could be a little bit shaky for the upcoming semi-final, even though they also had a very decent run in the first round with two wins (Samoa, New Caledonia) and one loss (Tahiti).

But for the Solomon Islands, a win would mean a direct spot for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Peru 2019, not less than history for them: never ever in football, in any age categories, had they reached a World Cup. So there was little chance these kids would drop that chance... “I believe this is our time. We will go for it. It’s a big game for us, but one that we have been aiming for from the beginning. It’s not going to be easy against a team like Fiji, but we will give everything at it", said the coach Stanley Waita.

They gave everything, and literally from the kick-off: they scored after... 45 seconds! The Fiji boys had a plan to mark the main weapon of Solomon, Le’ai, but that was without counting with the rest of the talented squad of coach Waita... Christopher Mani was on fire, scoring twice in the first half.

That’s when the Katukatus relaxed a bit too much, allowing Fiji to reduce the gap right before half time, thanks to Nikhi Pillay. A real achievement as it was the first goal conceded by the Solomons in this tournament. However, the second half was more or less under Solomon control, and the inevitable Le’ai finished off Fiji’s hopes in injury time.

Solomon Islands U-16 team at training

"According to our game plan we were supposed to score early goals and we did, really early maybe 50 seconds in. Then we sat back and allowed Fiji to have a bit of pressure on us. We were looking for another goal and finally, Raphael scored his eighth goal for this tournament which is big. Big, big", explained Waita after the game.

With this win, the Solomons have already probably realised the biggest exploit of their history by reaching the world stage. But that’s clearly not enough for the insatiable Solomon kids, as now they could be crowned OFC champs...

Watch the final Solomon Islands vs New Zealand on mycujoo on 22 September