To feature in one FIFA tournament, let alone two, is an impressive achievement. But Solomon Islands’ Micah Lea’alafa is on the verge of accomplishing something truly special.
When he steps onto the court at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 in September, Lea’alafa will be part-way towards featuring in three FIFA events within the space of just six months.
A headline name for both club and country, Lea’alafa has enjoyed a stunning year already. He was named player of the tournament at the OFC Champions League, with the attacking midfielder pivotal in helping Auckland City FC reach December’s FIFA Club World Cup. Just last month, Lea’alafa donned the national team’s jersey in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers.
Numerous fellow Solomon Islanders have featured on the world stage in both futsal and beach soccer, including Gideon Omokirio who also competed at the 2010 Club World Cup, but no player has done so at the same three tournaments as Lea’alafa in such a short space of time.
*Mastering two disciplines *
Lea’alafa plays both brands of the game with high intensity and flashy feet, yet somewhat incongruously, he remains exceedingly shy off the field, preferring to shun the limelight wherever possible. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more grounded or humble individual. So much so that Lea’alafa indicated that the rare treble had not even crossed his mind. “I didn’t think of it like that,” when asked by *FIFA.com *about his feat. “But that would be absolutely fantastic. And imagine if we got results at each of them.”
And Lea’alafa, in keeping with his easy-going, unaffected demeanour - a fact he puts down to being kept grounded by his deeply religious parents - suggests that flicking between the two brands of the game is not overly demanding. “The challenge has been finding the balance to ensure I continue to grow in both codes,” he said. “I think I have been able to shift between the two with relative ease.
“The sizes of the two pitches are obviously very different so you have to utilise space differently. Similarly, you have less time on the ball in futsal so you have to decide what to do pretty quickly. You make a mistake and the opposition can hurt you. I guess it’s all about working for each other.”
*Building for success *
If football’s popularity can be measured on a pro-rata basis, then the Melanesian nation is surely one of the world leaders. Unfeasibly large crowds - considering given the ‘Happy Isles’ relatively modest population - are commonplace at the national stadium, while 2,000 spectators attended a simple intra-squad futsal match recently.
Futsal’s popularity is reflected in the standing of the national team. Solomon Islands have yet to lose their Oceania crown since Australia exited the confederation in 2006.
At global level, however, Solomon Islands struggled in their first tournament in 2008, though they claimed their first win four years ago in Thailand. Now the *Kurukuru *are boosted by a Brazilian coach in Juliano Schmeling, while star players Elliot Ragomo and George Stevenson are in Brazil enjoying quality game time with the Belo Horizonte-based Minas Tenis Clube.
Now living in Auckland, Lea’alafa has enjoyed the slower pace of Melanesian life in recent weeks as he and his *Kurukuru *team-mates prepare for Colombia. “Our focus is on going further than where we went last time around,” Lea’alafa said, when asked about the team’s Colombia 2016 ambitions. “Each of us has matured with our playing styles. Some of us have gone on to playing other codes of football, but we are all a little more experienced one way or the other. But we are also realistic about the opposition that we will face.”
Results aside, one thing that can be guaranteed when the Solomons play is entertainment. “We definitely benefited from the experience of the two previous FIFA Futsal World Cups,” Lea’alafa said. “It’s even better because we've tasted victory and now we know what it feels like, and also the work that needs to be done to achieve at that level. The best form of attack is defence and we will really focus on this again.”