Kiwis, Solomons progress to final four
New Zealand and Solomon Islands advanced to the semi-final of the OFC Nations Cup, while third-placed Fiji progressed to the OFC’s third round of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying as Group B came to a close on Saturday. Even though Vanuatu defeated Fiji 3-2, their inferior goal difference saw them finish bottom of the group, while the spirited Solomon Islands' 1-0 defeat to the All Whites was enough to see them through to the competition’s final four.
In the matchday five opener, Vanuatu, in their iconic yellow strips, looked dangerous going forward and broke the deadlock through Dominique Fred on 19 minutes. The frontman, after receiving the ball from Fenedy Masauvakalo, raced through on goal before flicking over Fiji shot-stopper Beniaminio Mateinaqara and into the bottom corner. Moise Poida’s side then doubled their lead four minutes before the break when a sublime pass from Bong Kalo played through Masauvakalo in front of goal, who slotted past Mateinaqara with a cool finish.
Fiji came out of the blocks in the second half and grabbed a goal back six minutes after the re-start, as Samuela Kautoga showed great composure to control a high delivery before blasting the ball into the roof of the net. Fiji continued to pile on the pressure and after substitute Iosefo Verovou went close, Wellington Phoenix’s Roy Krishna grabbed the equaliser with a diving header on 69 minutes, bringing the score to 2-2 and notching his third goal of the tournament.
While Fiji looked to be in the ascendency, there was drama soon after when Vanuatu were awarded a penalty after Fred was brought down by Mateinaqara inside the area and Brian Kaltak made no mistake from the spot, firing home in the pouring rain in Port Moresby to make it 3-2. It was not enough for Vanuatu, who, despite their victory, finished bottom of the pile on goal difference, while Fiji advanced to the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifying by pipping them to third place.
Meanwhile, New Zealand finished top of Group B with a 100 per cent record but left it late to defeat Solomon Islands. The All Whites were the dominant team throughout the encounter but found it difficult to break down Moses Toata's spirited side who continued to hold firm - and who also enjoyed chances of their own through Henry Faarodo and Gibson Daudau.
It wasn’t until the 80th minute that the Kiwis grabbed the opener through Luke Adams, who headed home Matthew Ridenton’s delivery, ensuring they finished top of the pile with a perfect record. The winner of the OFC Nations Cup will go on to represent the continent at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
Results** Fiji 2-3 Vanuatu New Zealand 1-0 Solomon Islands Next Up **Defending champions Tahiti can finish top of Group A with a victory over 2012 finalists New Caledonia, while hosts Papua New Guinea, after surrendering a two-goal lead against Tahiti in their previous match, face lowly Samoa who are still without a point in the competition.