New Zealand and Solomon Islands both relied on early goals to edge 1-0 wins over Fiji and Papua New Guinea respectively to commence their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ campaigns in positive fashion. The debut action for the quartet was in stark contrast to Day 1, where 18 goals were scored across the two Group A matches.
A large crowd turned out in Honiara to see host nation Solomon Islands make their long-awaited return to FIFA World Cup action on home soil. The Lawson Tama stadium faithful were rewarded after just five minutes as Benjamin Totori smashed a fierce shot inside goalkeeper Leslie Kalai's near post.
The Melanesian heat necessitated drinks breaks in both halves, although the action remained constant throughout the 90 minutes. Much of the focus remained on the PNG half of the field, but despite numerous half-chances the home side were unable to extend their advantage, with James Naka coming closest with a shot off the woodwork.
Remarkably, the earlier match had followed the same pattern, with newly-appointed New Zealand captain Tommy Smith scoring on the nine-minute mark with what proved the winner. The Ipswich Town defender swept the ball home after goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau failed to hold a Leo Bertos free-kick.
The continental champions stayed in the ascendency for much of the opening stanza, with Shane Smeltz firing over when given a good sight of goal. Fiji, however, gave as good as they got in the second period, creating several openings, notably through star striker Roy Krishna.
*Fiji 0-1 New Zealand
Solomon Islands 1-0 Papua New Guinea
*Consequences *Despite the narrow winning margins, three points leaves the victors well placed to progress to the semi-finals and the next stage of Oceania Brazil 2014 qualifying, with Monday’s Fiji v Solomon Islands contest shaping up as crucial.
*Next up *Group A action resumes on Sunday with opening-day winners Tahiti and New Caledonia matching up with a last-four berth potentially in the offing.