New Zealand have qualified for the semi-finals of the OFC Nations Cup with a game to spare, while the Solomon Islands have been left well placed to join them in the last four following a goalless draw with Fiji.
That stalemate left the Solomons, tournament hosts, three points clear of their Group B rivals with just one group match remaining, and needing just a point against the Kiwis to take them through regardless of how Fiji fare against Papua New Guinea.
Both sides had their chances at the Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, with the Solomons missing a decent early chance through Joe Luwi’s wayward volley and then seeing Henry Fa’arodo's 'goal' disallowed for offside. Fiji might well have snatched the lead just after the hour-mark though when Roy Krishna – who was stretchered off shortly afterwards - went clean through on goal only to be denied by goalkeeper Felix Ray Jnr’s brave diving save.
The loss of their star forward was a blow to the Fijians, and yet they looked to have snatched a dramatic late win three minutes from time only for Pita Bolaitogo’s header to be ruled out for the same reason as Fa’arodo’s first-half effort.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand – 1-0 winners over Fiji in their opening match – made sure of advancing with a 2-1 win over Papua New Guinea. The All Whites began as heavy favourites and looked set for a comfortable win when, with just two minutes played, Shane Smeltz headed them in front from Jeremy Brockie’s inviting cross.
But although Smeltz was again involved seven minutes into the second half in setting up Chris Wood for New Zealand’s second, an 89th-minute penalty from PNG substitute Neil Hans made for an unexpectedly nervy period of stoppage time.
Papua New Guinea 1-2 New Zealand
Fiji 0-0 Solomon Islands
Although the Kiwis are assured of a place in the last four, they are not yet guaranteed top spot. The Solomon Islands could yet finish first with victory when the sides meet on Wednesday, although a point is all the home favourites require to reach the semi-finals. Fiji, meanwhile, have no option but to beat a Papua New Guinea side whose hopes were ended by defeat to New Zealand.
Tomorrow sees the conclusion of Group A, in which all four teams can still qualify for the last four. New Caledonia and bottom side Samoa kick off proceedings at 12.00 local time, followed three hours later by Vanuatu's match against section leaders Tahiti.