The Solomon Islands 6-2 victory over Vanuatu in the final of the Oceania Football Confederation Beach Soccer Tournament created history. Not only did it give them a place in the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Brazil, but it also made them the first team other than Australia and New Zealand to qualify for a FIFA event from the OFC.
For a number of years, the Solomons have been described as the 'Brazilians of the South Pacific.' Now they have the opportunity to test the theory out when they travel to Brazil and its famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro for the tournament which takes place between the 2 and the 12 November.
Solomons defeated Vanuatu 6-2 in the final, gaining revenge for the 9-4 defeat they had suffered at the hands of their neighbours on Matchday One. Vanuatu, who had entered the competition as pre-tournament favourites, looked out of sorts in the final and failed to score in the first and third periods of the match. The Solomon Islands, known as the 'Bilikiki Beach Soccer Boys', were grateful for goals from the experienced Henry Koto, the pacy James Naka, Richard Anisua and captain Gideon Omokirio.
Jean Emmanuel Maleb's double strike was the only reward for Vanuatu, and after the match, their coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti conceded that perhaps his side had played their final a day earlier against Tahiti. Indeed, Buzzetti was grateful to goalkeeper Chikau Mansale for keeping the scoreline down. He produced a string of top-class saves in the first period, and maintained his high standards throughout the rest of the match. Mansale was named as the tournament's best goalkeeper, edging out the Solomons' Fred Hale who was also in impressive form.
Wickham works wonders
"This is a dream come true for us," exclaimed the ecstatic Solomon Isalnds coach Vivian Wickham after the game. At the age of 24, Wickham is almost certainly the youngest coach to lead his team to the finals of a FIFA event. "Some of the boys had never left the country before, so to have achieved what we have in such a short period is amazing," he added.
In the match for third place, Tahiti outclassed the Cook Islands 12-4 in a highly entertaining match played in atrocious conditions. The Cooks saved their best for last with a much improved performance against the hosts.
At 4-4 in the early stages of the second period an upset looked as though it could be on the cards, but Tahiti stepped up a gear, scoring eight without reply. Five of those goals were recorded by tournament top-scorer Teiva Izal, who also scooped the Player of the Tournament awarded. The youthful Cook Island side were awarded the Fair Play Trophy for their sportsmanship.
2006 OFC Beach Soccer Tournament
Temae Beach, Moorea, Tahiti
Solomon Islands qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2006