The first of the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ produced 34 goals on the opening day of the South Pacific Games in Samoa, with hard-fought wins for New Caledonia and Vanuatu while Fiji and the Solomon Islands went on veritable goal sprees.
Eight of the 10 teams competing in the games' football tournament, which serving as the first stage of Oceania's qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa, made their bow on the first day of a competition which runs through to 7 September. New Caledonia had the distinction of winning the first match on the long road to South Africa, just edging Tahiti 1-0 in a Francophone derby at the Toleafoa JS Blatter Complex on the outskirts of the Samoan capital Apia.
The match started just before the meeting between American Samoa and favourites the Solomon Islands and on the second of the two fields at the well-kept complex, built by FIFA as part of the Goal Project. Later, Fiji clobbered Tuvalu 16-0 with a double hat-trick for Osea Vakatalesau while hosts Samoa were beaten 4-0 by Vanuatu.
New Caledonia captain Pierre Wajoka netted the first goal of the qualifiers, this after just nine minutes, slotting home a penalty after Tahiti defence had been caught out by the pace of the speedy Iamel Kabeu, who was brought down inside the area. After 40 minutes, New Caledonian midfielder Jose Hmae was handed his marching orders by New Zealand referee Michael Hester for pushing an opponent in the face, but his side were able to hold on to their slender lead.
"There is a great satisfaction for us with this result," was the verdict of New Caledonian coach Didier Chambaron afterwards. We were very serious and we put in a lot of hard work before, which really paid off."
*Solomons cruise, Ott makes history * The Solomon Islands ran in 12 goals against American Samoa, Commins Menapi scoring four to claim the first hat-trick on the road to South Africa 2010.
Benjamin Totori and Stanley Waita each scored two more in the rout, which saw the Solomon Islanders lead 5-0 at half-time before going on to register a 12-1 win. "We have a team that can win the goal and that is what we are aiming for," said Airon Andrioli, the Brazilian coach of the Solomon Islands, afterwards.
American Samoa's first-ever FIFA World Cup qualifying goal, meanwhile, came from a second half penalty from Ramin Ott. "I am thrilled with our first ever goal but as a coach to lose so heavily is hard," lamented David Brand, the Englishman in charge of the unfancied outsiders.
American Samoa lost 31-0 in FIFA World Cup record defeat in the 2002 qualifiers to Australia but feel they have made a great deal of improvement, even if their 17-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Penitusi was playing his first-ever game in senior football.
Cahill Snr stars for Samoa
Tuvalu, who are only associate members of FIFA, must have realised that they would be up against it when their own keeper was forced to make his first save after just 12 seconds against Fiji, gold medalists at the last South Pacific Games, which they hosted four years ago. Sure enough, it did not long before the goals came raining in, almost on cue with a brief shower on an otherwise perfect, steamy day in the tropics.
Fiji's highly rated-striker Roy Krishna got the first after six minutes and 18 minutes later had already completed his hat trick. Before half-time, his team-mate Pita Rabo had gone one better and scored four, leaving Fiji 10 goals to the good by half-time, threatening the possibility of bettering Australia's record. Vakatalesau scored five after the break to add the goal he sneaked in just before the half-time whistle but Fiji faded as the game progressed, and missed a myriad of other chances to the relief of Jay Timo, Tuvalu's beleaguered goalkeeper.
Vanuatu, meanwhile, had a tough assignment against the hosts but scored at key junctures of a game in which the 4-0 scoreline flattered them a little. Richard Iwai, Jean Nako Naprapol, Moise Poida and Seule Soromon were their goalscorers.
As for Samoa, they were captained by Chris Cahill, elder brother of the Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, who starred for Australia at last year's FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. The tournament's other participants, the Cook Islands and Tonga, play their first games on Monday.
Group A - Match Day 1
Group B - Match Day 1