Day four of the South Pacific Games in Samoa brought opening wins for Tonga and the Cook Islands, but the biggest winners were Fiji and the Solomon Islands, both of whom advanced to the semi-finals.
For the former, a 4-0 win over Tahiti was enough to see them join group rivals New Caledonia in the draw for the last four, while a 2-0 win over Vanuatu tournament favourites the Solomons leapfrog their opponents, who will now battle it out with hosts Samoa for the one remaining spot.
The erstwhile impressive Ni-Vanuatu had scored 19 goals without reply in their opening two matches, and the confidence gleaned from those performances was evident during an opening half which saw them comfortably contain their rivals with some neat, composed football at the back.
However, the Solomons remained patient and, within a deadly four-minute period just after the hour-mark, effectively put the outcome beyond doubt. First, Godwin Bebeu popped up to break the deadlock in outrageous style, extravagantly back-heeling the ball beyond Maki Haitong, then Henry Fa'arodo was afforded time and space to clinically seal the win.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed by a couple of excellent saves from the formidable Fred Hale, although Vanuatu will be consoled by the fact that victory over Tonga in their final match will assure them of advancing ahead of a Samoan side beaten 4-0 in the sides' opening fixture.
The Tongans will certainly hope to put up a better show than they managed yesterday in a drab 4-0 win over American Samoa that represented the basement boys' best result at this year's competition. Despite monopolising possession, Tonga all too often proved toothless in front of goal and it took until the 37th minute for the deadlock to be broken. Even then, it was from the penalty spot that Lafaele Moala fired his side into a lead that was later increased by a Pio Palu brace and a stunning late strike from Kaisani Utatahi.
Cooks' delight as Fiji finish the job
In Group A, Fiji made sure of matching New Caledonia's achievement of qualifying for the semi-finals with a game to spare. Tahiti made a game of it, but they were always likely to be up against it when Taniela Waqa's superb 17th-minute opener was followed 18 minutes later by the dismissal of Stephane Gelima for preventing a Fijian goalscoring opportunity.
Within three minutes of being reduced to 10 men, Tahiti's fate was sealed when Pita Baleitoga side-footed home Fiji's second, and a 4-0 win was later completed by a well-taken double from Osea Vakatalesau.
There was joy, meanwhile, for Tim Jerks' Cook Islands, who won their first points of the 2007 South Pacific Games with a comprehensive 4-1 win over fellow minnows Tuvalu. Jerks, himself a former coach of Tuvalu, had predicted an open and entertaining match, and the fans certainly did not go home disappointed.
In a keenly-contested encounter, the Cook Islands just had the edge over their determined opponents, and moved in front after 28 minutes through a looping header from Teariki Mateariki. The outcome appeared to have been all but settled with 21 minutes remaining when Mateariki double his and his team's tally, but an 83rd-minute own goal from Steve Willis reduced arrears and prompted a frantic finish.
Fortunately for Jerks, his side proved that they had both the fitness and mental strength to flourish, and after Thomas Le Mouton had restored their two-goal advantage with two minutes remaining, Kunda Tom served up arguably the goal of the tournament so far with a wonderful volleyed strike.
Tuvalu and American Samoa now head for home with heads held high, while tomorrow's final round of group matches will see New Caledonia and Fiji face off in Group A, the Cook Islands face Tahiti, and both Samoa and Vanuatu scrap for that final semi-final place against the Solomons and Tonga respectively.