Solomon Islands reaffirmed their status as Oceania’s pre-eminent Futsal powerhouse by storming to a fifth continental crown in confident fashion. Five wins in as many matches means the Melanesian nation will feature at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 – their third appearance in a row on the world stage.
The Oceania tournament, which concluded on Saturday, was held in the Fiji capital, Suva. It was the same venue as five years ago when the last continental-wide title was held, although there have been two OFC invitational tournaments during the intervening years.
Six nations took part in Fiji, each seeking a ticket to Colombia 2016. New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Vanuatu, as well as the hosts and the eventual champions, all participated in the six-day competition.
With a long tradition in Futsal and Beach Soccer, Solomon Islands started as warm favourites and they underlined their quality from the very first match. Hardened by a recent tour of Australia, the Kurukuru, as the Solomon Islands Futsal national team is affectionately known, opened with a 3-0 victory over Tahiti. It was a key result given that Tahiti pushed the Solomons to the very brink in the 2011 final.
A 5-1 win over New Caledonia on matchday 2 set up the Solomons for a pivotal match-up against New Zealand. Given the tournament was a round-robin event, this was something of a final for both teams. The Solomons led 1-0 at the break, before eventually overwhelming the Futsal Whites for a 4-1 victory. There were then routine 6-1 and 5-0 wins over Vanuatu and Fiji respectively, as the Solomons cruised through with a perfect record and a goal difference of 23-3. Now their task is to make an impact on the world stage, having ended their 2012 campaign with a group-stage win.
Tahiti and New Zealand led the challenge as Oceania’s aspirants sought to break Solomon Islands' stranglehold on the 2016 continental championship. Tahiti held high hopes after an agonising near-miss in their push to reach Thailand 2012. On that occasion, they held a 4-1 lead in the final only to capitulate to a 6-4 defeat against the Solomons. This time they opened against Solomons, but an opening day-defeat meant qualification hopes were out of their direct control after the first match.
A 3-2 defeat the following day against New Zealand lifted the Futsal Whites into second – a position the Kiwis never relinquished. New Zealand, under former Australia Futsal World Cup coach Scott Gilligan, have improved markedly over recent years, and they have fresh ambitions to grow the game further at local and international level. For now though, it is the Solomon Islands who remain the benchmark in the Pacific. “We’ve got a really good group of young players coming through,” said Gilligan. “We’ve got some kids like that back home so I know the next four years is about utilising those players.”
3 – Solomon Islands made a clean sweep at the 2016 edition of the tournament. Aside from winning the main prize they also collected all three individual awards on offer. Personal recognition went to captain Elliot Ragomo, who won the Golden Ball as the best player, best goalkeeper Anthony Talo, and George Stevenson, who was the highest scorer with five goals.
“This week has been unbelievable. When you see the story of the Kurukuru, these players are amazing and I’m so happy to be part of this historic occasion.” Solomon Islands coach Juliano Schmeling
Solomon Islands - 15 points
New Zealand - 12
Tahiti – 9
Vanuatu – 6
New Caledonia – 3
Fiji – 0
Elliot Ragomo (Solomon Islands)
Anthony Talo (Solomon Islands)
George Stevenson (Solomon Islands)