To Vanuatu the valuable prize of a place in the next round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, to New Caledonia the glory of being crowned champions at the South Pacific Games. But for the Solomon Islands, favourites to emerge winners when eight teams started out at the Samoa event 12 days ago, only a deep depression today after their defeat in the third place play-off denied them the chance to take part along with the gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the next round of the Oceanian Zone qualifying campaign.
New Caledonia were already assured of their participation in the October event, in which New Zealand will also take part, having reached today's final. These are exciting times for the country who have only been FIFA members for three years and who were making their FIFA World Cup debut. Now, following a dramatic victory over the Solomon Islands in Wednesday's semi-final, it reached a new high with the 1-0 defeat of a Fijian side who had finished ahead of them in Group A by virtue of scoring far more goals (25 compared to six).
The encounter at the Toleafoa J.S. Blatter Complex in Apia, hinged on the 61st minute when Fiji failed to clear a free-kick allowing Jose Hmae, one of only two overseas-based players in New Caledonia's squad, to fire home to the delight of his team-mates and coach Didier Chambaron.
In teeming rain, Chambaron's team had started well and Adolphe Boaoutho forced Simione Tamanisau to make a stretching save to his right early on from 30 yards, the goalkeeper trapping the ball against the upright. When Tamanisau failed to hold a cross from Yohann Mercier, the player who gave his team that thrilling 3-2 victory over Solomon Islands with the last touch of the semi-final, Iamel Kabeu, was handed his first opportunity to score but lashed wide.
Osea Vakatalesau was allowed to run through as Fiji hit back but Marc Ounemoa saved well to his right. New Caledonia always looked the most likely team, however, with Adolphe Boaoutho beating four players and shooting just too high while Pierre Wajoka also came close.
Fiji gave it their all having gone behind and only an acrobatic clearance off the line by George Wadenges kept the lead intact. In added time New Caledonia's goal was put under sustained pressure, but they held on to celebrate a fifth gold medal at the South Pacific Games and take revenge for their 2-0 defeat against hosts Fiji in the last tournament four years ago.
Chambaron said: "This is a great feeling, we were very strong in defence and played the game in the right way, I am very pleased."
Bronze medal, coveted passage
In the earlier game it was a goal in first-half injury time from Seule Soromon that put Vanuatu on their way to the valuable bronze medal. It became 2-0 early in the second half when Francois Sakama scored with a superb volley.
A clear route back into the contest then opened up for the Islanders when Benjamin Totori blasted a drive into the defensive ranks and won a penalty for hand-ball. However, Chikau Mansale guessed correctly and denied Commins Menapi a reply.
It nearly got worse for Solomon Islands as David Taro was forced to clear off the line. They were then denied in the same fashion as Godwin Bebeu headed sharply following a Judd Molea corner, only for Derek Malas to come up with the rescue on the line.