Solomons retain OFC crown

The Bilikiki Boys are champions once again. In winning the OFC Beach Soccer Championship for the second successive year, the Solomon Islands are also celebrating qualification for a consecutive appearance in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007 later this year.

However, the side that shocked Cameroon at last year's showpiece event did it the hard way after finishing second in the round robin stage and trailed Vanuatu by two goals in the final match, which they eventually won by five goals to three at Narrow Beck beach in New Zealand.

Once again, James Naka was the hero for the Solomon Islands, as his goals proved to be enough to win the match, but the 22-year-old striker was also named as the player of the tournament.

It had been a frustrating weekend for Naka and Co. prior to the final, as the Solomons lost their opening game to Vanuatu 3-2 with Derek Malas' strike 15 seconds from time proving to be the difference between the two teams.

Kiwis almost shock Solomons
In the final match of Day 1, they limped to a 4-3 victory over tournament newcomers New Zealand.

The Kiwis proved to be competitive against the defending champions and took a 3-2 lead in the second period. Despite dominating much of the final period, the Bilikiki experience equalised in the tenth minute of the third period through Henry Koto, before that man Naka popped up again 90 seconds later to secure the points.

Normal service was resumed on Day 2, when the Solomons defeated Tahiti 5-3 to guarantee a final match with Vanuatu, who topped the round robin section after enjoying a 100 per cent record in the group stages.

New Zealand and Tahiti were left to battle it out for third place. After losing all three of their group matches, the hosts were expected to claim the tournament's wooden spoon, but they shocked their opponents with a 5-3 victory to take the bronze medal.

Yet the Tahitians did not end up completely empty handed. Their striker Teva Zaveroni ended up as the tournament's top scorer with 11 goals to his name. Zaveroni scored four goals apiece against New Zeland and Vanuatu on the opening day, bagged a brace in the 5-3 reversal to the Solomons and scored his final goal in the match for third place.

The OFC Beach Soccer Championship will be held in New Zealand next year, but will be shifted to February, as part of an agreement to be signed between North Shore City Council and OFC to have the event in the city until 2010.

"We are drawing a line in the sand, if you like, about establishing a permanent base for beach soccer in the Oceania region," said OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas. "I'm sure the tournament will continue to grow.

"This edition was an overwhelming success. We wanted to introduce this format of football to the New Zealand football public and we have heard nothing but positive feedback. We (The OFC) are delighted with the outcome and potential of this form of football to make an impact in New Zealand."