Undefeated throughout the six-match tournament played in Suva, the Solomon Islanders continue to track well ahead of next year’s qualifiers for the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Thailand. The Kurukuru, as the Islanders are known, are looking to repeat their feat of two years ago when they qualified for Brazil 2008, and in the process created history as the first Pacific Islands team to appear at a FIFA tournament.
The manner of their victory over the past week suggests continental hegemony is well deserved. Their slimmest winning margin was four goals with the team slotting away an impressive 59 goals as the Solomons finished well clear of Fiji who edged New Zealand into second spot. Vanuatu claimed fourth place followed by New Caledonia, Tahiti and Tuvalu.
Young Kurukuru captain Elliot Ragomo proved to be the sensation of the tournament securing the accolade of top-scorer, just ahead of team-mate Micah Lea’alafa, thanks to a remarkable seven-goal haul in the final outing against minnows Tuvalu. Ragomo, who was the first ever Solomon Islander to play Futsal as a professional with Playas De Castellon in Spain, also picked up the OFC Golden Ball Award.
Coach Dickson Kadau says the performances all week confirm they are on the right track. “I feel like we are improving all the time,’ he said. “The experienced players were all impressive but I have to say some of the youngsters also stood out this week. Coleman Makau was playing in his first OFC tournament and was particularly impressive.”
Hosts Fiji had a solid tournament losing just two matches and finishing runners-up for the fourth time in the seventh edition of the championship. The Fijian line-up was notable for the inclusion of New Zealand-based star striker Roy Krishna, with the Waitakere United speedster a firm favourite among the good crowds that turned up in Suva. Another noteworthy squad member was captain Kamal Hassan, a nominee for the 2009 OFC Player of the Year award.
New Zealand appeared set for second spot until a 6-4 loss in their final outing against New Caledonia saw the Kiwis drop behind Fiji on goal difference. It was nevertheless a welcome return for the New Zealanders who missed last year’s edition of the tournament. “Some of our key players were feeling the effects of a long week,” stated coach Matt Chandler following the final outing against New Caledonia. ”But those are the same players who have a done tremendous job for us in this tournament, so overall, we’re very happy with where we are at. We now know where we have to be to succeed next year in the World Cup qualifiers.”
Vanuatu’s fourth-placed finish meant that they finally ended a remarkably consistent run of six consecutive third placings. Their narrow 3-2 loss to New Zealand in the early stages of the competition ending any hope of that run continuing. Despite losing four of their matches Tahiti maintained a relatively tight defence conceding 16 times across the six matches, which was the equal best in the competition. Goalkeeper Atanui Tetihia earned plaudits for his performances and won the Golden Glove Award for best goalkeeper.
Now a yearly event the OFC Futsal Championship continues to prosper within FIFA’s smallest confederation. “The popularity of Futsal continues to grow around the world and it is no different here in Oceania,” said OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas. “We were encouraged to see seven teams sign up for this year’s championship – three more than in 2009. And with OFC Futsal Development Officer Scott Gilligan working hard to develop the right structures across all of our Member Associations, the future looks bright for Futsal.”