Defeating lowly Tuvalu 12-0 today, the Solomon Islands sealed their qualification for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008.
The Solomons' task was made easier by Vanuatu's loss to Tahiti earlier in the day. Going into the final round of the qualifying tournament, held at the Vodafone Arena in Suva, Vanuatu and the Solomons were tied at the top of the table with 12 points from five games. Vanuatu, however, came into the round with a goal difference of +22, in comparison to the Solomons' +10. Were they to defeat Tahiti, it looked certain that the Vanuatans would be on their way to Brazil. But Tahiti, in third place on 10 points, were in no mood to make things easy for their Francophone rivals.
The match between Vanuatu and Tahiti was a tight one. Fedy Vava of Vanuatu scored the opening goal from a counter-attack in the tenth minute, and Vanuatan hopes rose. Yet a handling error by Vanuatu's goalkeeper Daniel Mansale allowed Tahiti to equalise on 16 minutes. It was 1-1 at half-time.
The second half was tense and frenetic, as Vanuatu's Futsal team battled concurrently with their national football side, locked in a 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier with New Caledonia back in Port Vila. Only a win would be good enough for the Futsal side, but as the half wore on, Tahiti gained the ascendancy, and they managed to score in the very last minute through Matana Bea to rub salt into Vanuatan wounds. Just prior to the goal, Vanuatu had suffered another blow when Ben Edward was sent off.
This left the Solomon Islands with the relatively straightforward task of disposing of Tuvalu, who had conceded a whopping 45 goals in their previous five games, all of which they had lost. When Elliot Rogomu and Micah Lea'alafa scored for the Solomons in the opening two minutes, everyone knew who would be going to Brazil.
The Solomons turned on the style to run out 12-0 winners, Lea'alafa scoring a hat-trick, and the Solomon Islands were crowned OFC Futsal champions, 2008. Tahiti's late win over Vanuatu netted them the silver medal, with a disappointed Vanuatu claiming bronze. Vanuatu's players could perhaps console themselves with the memory of their own 5-1 win over the eventual champions earlier in the tournament.
The foundation for the Solomons' eventual success was laid with their own victory over Tahiti on Friday, perhaps the tournament's key game. The Solomon Islands team was generally recognised as the most technically proficient at the event, but Tahiti had gained respect for their stamina and fighting qualities, and Solomons coach Victor Wai'ia was aware that his men would have their work cut out.
Nevertheless, Wai'ia's charges picked their way through the well-marshalled Tahitian defence to run out 4-2 winners. "
Tahiti play at the same speed for the full 40 minutes and they are all very fast
," remarked Wai'ia after the game. "I told the boys they would have no chance to slack off. They are very well organized in defence, and we tried to keep possession in the last 15 minutes to wear them down."
And so the Solomon Islands will represent the Oceania region at the FIFA Futsal World Cup, which will be held between September 30 and October 19 in Brazil.