Perennial Pacific challengers Fiji have been eliminated from the race for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ with the Solomon Islands claiming the remaining available berth to the third and final stage of Oceania qualifying. Fiji’s hope were dashed after they were held 1-1 by a valiant Papua New Guinea, although a win would have proved fruitless with the Solomons holding New Zealand in the late match, much to the delight of a boisterous home crowd in Honiara.
Fiji, sitting three points behind the host nation, entered their game knowing nothing less than three points would maintain their Brazil 2014 aspirations. Fiji, without experienced coach Carlos Buzzetti who was forced to watch on television after a heavy fall, made the perfect start with a goal from Maciu Dunadamu on 13 minutes. The Fijians had much the better of the first half but Papua New Guinea, having displayed their tenacity throughout their previous two matches, seemed determined to depart the tournament with at least a share of the spoils. Captain David Muta spurned a good opening just prior to the break, however talisman Kema Jack scored the equaliser with a header five minutes from time.
The result not only ended Fiji’s dreams but ensured Solomon Islands’ qualification, although top spot in the group was still up for grabs in the latter match. New Zealand, fielding a mostly youthful side, started with momentum and Rory Fallon was twice denied in quick succession, firstly by the woodwork and then by a goal-line clearance. The All Whites, however, were not to be denied and Chris Wood put them ahead on 14 minutes with a crisp low volley. The second half started with a different tone altogether and Benjamin Totori came close with several efforts, before kick-starting wild celebrations with the equaliser approaching the hour mark. Appropriately it was Totori who had the final chance of the match, fizzing a shot just wide deep into injury time.
*Results *Papua New Guinea 1-1 Fiji
New Zealand 1-1 Solomon Islands
*Consequences *The final day of group action leaves Solomon Islands to face Tahiti and New Zealand will meet New Caledonia. A berth in the OFC Nations Cup final will be on the line for the victors while the tournament winner will earn passage to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
*Next up *It will be an early start for local fans on Friday with Solomons tackling Tahiti at 11am local time, with New Zealand meeting New Caledonia at 3pm. There will be little chance for recovery ahead of Sunday’s final, with the competitors facing a fifth match in a ten day period.