In the period of calm before the storm of Thursday’s do-or-die final, the New Zealand and Solomons Island camps dealt with a day of media interest and anticipation ahead of the Oceania FIFA World Cup decider.
In New Zealand, commentators focussed on the All Whites’ dominance against Tahiti in the semi-final but also highlighted the number of wasted goalscoring chances.
Goalscoring hero Liberato Cacace, whose first international goal gave New Zealand its 1-0 win, was confident the final will be different to the semi-final.
He told Stuff’s Phillip Rollo: “We all know we’re a quality side and we’re the team to beat but Tahiti made it very difficult,.
“The way they set up, they dropped off, took away the space in behind for the likes of Woodsy (Chris Wood), Callum and Eli (Just), and they made it difficult.
“But we’ve got to stay patient and the opportunities will open up and we’ve just got to take them.”
Coach Hay: ‘We could have been more clinical’
All Whites coach Danny Hay accepts his team needs to be more ruthless in front of goal.
“We could have been more clinical.
“Again, we had a number of opportunities, particularly at the back end of the first half and then a number in the first half.
“We put ourselves under pressure by not being clinical.”
He expects Solomon Islands to be a very different proposition to the physically-intimidating Tahiti.
“They’re technically very good. A lot of futsal style players – skilful dribblers, extremely quick, they get huge numbers on the counter attack.
“They’re going to pose a real threat, there’s no doubt about it – but it’s going to be a different game of football.”
Indications are that New Zealand will have a full squad to choose from, with the likely return to match fitness of midfielder Marko Stamenic who was not considered for the semi-final.
New Zealand v Solomon Islands
Final, Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament
Grand Hamad Stadium, Doha
Thursday March 31, 2022
Watch: Live on Sky Sports 7
Solomon Islands: Pro’ clubs have been tracking new teenage star
Teenage striker Raphael Lea’i has quickly become the Solomon Islands’ new star player, having scored four goals in only three games at the tournament.
He grabbed a hat-trick in the 3-1 win against Tahiti and then scored his side’s third goal in their 3-2 semi-final win against Papua New Guinea.
The 19-year-old is quick and his ability to find the net has already attracted attention from professional clubs.
While at school, he was invited for trials with Argentine first division clubs Deportivo Godoy Cruz and A-League club Brisbane Roar. As he was under 18, he could not sign an overseas professional contract.
Instead, he accepted a scholarship with Wellington’s Scots College, affiliated with the Wellington Phoenix academy, and he scored 15 of Scots’ 41 goals in 2019.
More recently, he was invited to trial with A-League club Melbourne Victory.
Leader of the Opposition: ‘Go, Solo, go!’
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islanders have been getting well-wishers ahead of the final, including the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Matthew Wale, who has posted a video of support via his party’s Facebook page.
“I will join every Solomon Islander to cheer you on and we all have no doubt you can make history,” he exhorts.
“Be proud of yourselves as good ambassadors of our beloved country and the youngest team in the competition.
“Go, Solo, Go. Go out there and make us proud.”
Fiji’s Roy Krishna scores a double against Vanuatu
Yes, you read that right. Fiji and Vanuatu squeezed in an unscheduled friendly international before their squads disbanded from the tournament.
With Fiji exiting after the pool games, and Vanuatu unable to play because of multiple COVID cases, the teams decided to play at The Hamad Bind Khalifa Stadium in Qatar with the winner no doubt improving their FIFA world ranking.
All the goals came early with Andre Batick giving Vanuatu the lead after 16 minutes.
Krishna (34), possibly playing his last game for Fiji, scored in the 21st and 36th minutes to get the win for the Bula Boys.