A new name is set to be etched onto the OFC Nations Cup trophy after upset wins for Tahiti over host-nation Solomon Islands, and also New Caledonia, who stunned reigning champions New Zealand in the late match. The quartet had already won through to the third and final stage of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying, however the semi-final results means a Pacific Island nation will participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup for the first time, with the two French-speaking nations to meet in Sunday’s final.
The victors both came from Group A with the pair having an extra day to recover after New Zealand and Solomon Islands completed their group stage fixtures on Wednesday. Oppressive heat once again greeted the teams in Honiara, with the first match following what has become a familiar pattern. The Tahitians opened the scoring early on through a far-post header from Jonathan Tehau on the quarter-hour mark, with what was to prove the only goal of the match. Solomon Islands pressed throughout the remainder of the contest but, despite the typically boisterous support of the Lawson Tama Stadium crowd, they were unable to breach the Polynesians’ rearguard. Chances came at both ends throughout an action-paced contest, notably for Tahiti with Jeffery Bule heading a Lorenzo Tehau corner off the line in first-half injury time.
The late match saw New Caledonia claim the most momentous result of their short history defeating New Zealand for the first time in just their third FIFA World Cup campaign. New Caledonia’s impressive duo did the damage with Bertrand Kai scoring on the hour mark and Georges Gope-Fenepej ending the contest in injury time. Both teams enjoyed numerous goalscoring openings with Jacques Haeko hitting the post for New Caledonia with a shot, while Shane Smeltz pushed a diving header wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. Les Cagous could taste history in the making when Haeko slipped an Olivier Dokunengo ball forward and Kai nipped in to lift it over advancing goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. The All Whites could have almost immediately restored parity, however Michael McGlinchey’s effort rattled the crossbar. It proved a costly miss and with New Zealand leaving themselves exposed at the back, Gope-Fenepej put the result beyond doubt after being set clear by Iamel Kabeu.
*Results *Tahiti 1-0 Solomon Islands
New Zealand 0-2 New Caledonia
*Next up *Sunday will see New Caledonia and Tahiti vie for their maiden continental crown with Tahiti three-time losing finalists, and New Caledonia finishing second behind New Zealand four years ago in a round-robin format. Solomon Islands and New Zealand will meet in the play-off for third earlier in the day. All eight previous titles have been shared between Australia and New Zealand.
*Consequences *Regardless of the victor there will be a debut participant from Oceania at next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.