There was a lot riding on three of the day's four games on matchday of the South Pacific Games in Samoa. In Group A, Fiji and New Caledonia were battling for top spot, while in Group B, there was all to play for as both Samoa and Vanuatu harboured hopes of a place in the semi-finals.
The first games to get underway at the Toleafoa J.S. Blatter Football Fields in Apia were the Group B matches between Tonga and Vanuatu and Samoa's against the Solomon Islands. Although Vanuatu were favourites to qualify for the final four, Samoa were hoping that they could upset the odds and pull off a famous victory.
Their bid got off to the worst possible start at the Group B winners scored inside the opening 60 seconds. Benjamin Totori created space for himself and unleashed a shot which rippled the back of the net. His second came 36 minutes later, when he was left with the easiest of tap-ins following good work down the left hand side. Despite pushing forward for an equaliser in the second half, it was the Solomons who extended their advantage when substitute Alick Maemae's shot was deflected past Pasi Schwalger.
On the neighbouring pitch, meanwhile, Vanuatu were making light work of Tonga. A first-half hat trick from Seule Soromon, scored within 17 minutes of each other, took his tally to nine in the tournament so far and helped his side to a 4-1 victory. Tonga gave their opponents a brief scare four minutes after the restart when Malakai Savieti pulled one back, but Victor Maleb scored within a minute of his introduction into the game in the 75th minute to make sure there were no last-minute nerves. Samoa, who had enjoyed wins over Tonga and American Samoa, now exit the competition.
Nailbiting draw enough for Fiji
If Tonga's match with Vanuatu produced the most goals today, it was New Caledonia's fixture with Fiji which caused the most interest. With both teams enjoying 100 per cent records going into the match, something had to give. The opening exchanges were played at a fairly sedate pace and although it was Fiji who created the better chances, it was New Caledonia who went into the interval ahead. Pierre Wajoka's tame free-kick 43rd minute was allowed to trickle past a posse of Fiji defenders and found its way into the corner of the net.
After some harsh words from coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti at the break, the Fijians attacked with all guns blazing at the start of the second half, with Malakai Kainihewe's 57th minute header earning them a deserved equaliser. Chances were at a premium for the remainder of the match and with the game ending 1-1, it is Fiji who will meet Vanuatu with the Solomon Islands facing New Caledonia in the semi-finals.
Two teams who had no chance of progressing, namely Cook Islands and Tahiti met in the day's other game. Although only pride and third place was up for grabs, the match was played with a real passion which boiled over on several occasions. Referee Fiti Aimaasu was forced to show three red cards in 13 second half minutes. Amid the sendings off, Temarii Tinorua netted the only goal to grab victory for Tahiti.