Guest writer Richard Ewart is in Samoa for the Pacific Games, commentating on the football matches, and he gives his thoughts on the third day of men’s action.
Controversy reigned as the heavyweights in Group B came head to head in the battle to reach the gold medal showdown next week.
By: Richard Ewart in Samoa.
First up the Solomon Islands looked to bounce back from their two-nil loss to New Caledonia against the other French big guns, Tahiti.
The Solomons pressed early, but a break in concentration allowed Tahiti’s captain and leading goal scorer, Teaonui Tehau, to run away on his own. Phillip Mango raced out his area to challenge him, and Tehau’s shot appeared to bounce off the keeper’s big frame and away to safety. But the Malaysian referee saw things differently. He punished Mango for handling outside the box, and brandished a red card. Replays suggested the ball had gone nowhere near a hand, but the luxury of VAR is not available at the Pacific Games. After not far short of ten minutes of prolonged discussions and angry exchanges, the fabulously named Desmond Tutu took over in the Solomons’ goal and his first job was to pick the ball out of the net when Tamatoa Tetauira scored direct from the free-kick awarded against Mango. Rough justice.
But the referee Mr Nasruddin was just warming up. Midway through the second half Tahiti doubled their lead with a penalty kick taken by Tehau. It was awarded for a foul, but again the replay offered a different story, and suggested the “foul” was in fact a case of tripping over your own feet. The game finally boiled over when as clear a penalty foul as you’ll ever see at the other end was ruled out, and Solomons’ coach Wim Rijsbergen was apoplectic. After telling the ref that he “ would remember your face”, the former Dutch World Cup star was red carded and ordered away from the bench.
By now the Solomons were utterly deflated, but led by their charismatic skipper Benji Totori, they kept pressing in the hope that something would go right for them. It didn’t and Tahiti wrapped up the points with a second – controversy free – goal for Tehau in the dying minutes. So Tahiti remain in the mix for the gold medal match, but Solomons, barring something very unexpected are out of contention.
The clash between Fiji and New Caledonia was not quite as controversial, but the game still hinged on two penalty decisions. Both were clear cut, but while New Caledonia got the verdict and Jean-Philippe Saiko scored from the spot, the referee Nick Waldron from New Zealand waved away Fijian claims.
Fiji’s talisman Roy Krishna spent most of the match being upended by the uncompromising New Caledonians led by skipper Joel Wakanumune who was lucky to stay on the park. To his credit Krishna didn’t flinch, and after dancing past a trio of French defenders, he put the ball on a plate for Rusiate Matarerega, but sadly for Fiji the young forward wasn’t at the table for what would’ve been a simple tap in. Coach Christophe Gamelle was not happy with his player’s lack of effort.
So after all that, New Caledonia are in pole position for the gold medal match – yet again, while Fiji and Tahiti are dead level behind them on points and goal difference, but the Fijians hold second by dint of beating Tahiti in round one. Krishna’s team could yet make the decider if Tahiti topple their French rivals in round four, and Fiji beat Solomon Islands in round five.
Meanwhile, on the ground where the TV cameras don’t go, American Samoa played out their own private battle with Tuvalu. Bragging rights were up for grabs, and Tuvalu struck first on the half-hour mark through their all time top scorer, Nauru born Alotoa Petoa. But with Jaiyah Saelua on a yellow card, American Samoa worked their way back into the match, and found an equalizer through their number nine Walter Pati on 70 minutes. And that’s the way it finished, so the question of who gets the wooden spoon in group B will all be settled on goal difference.
And so to group A, and the clash between Vanuatu and the young New Zealand side. And what a difference! After waltzing past Tonga and Samoa, the Kiwis got a reality check. Not to put too fine a point on it, coach Paul Munster’s team outplayed them. Led by Bong Kalo’s invention, Vanuatu cramped the New Zealanders for room, tackled back, and carved holes in the Kiwi defence with their speed. Perfect. Just one problem, no matter how hard they tried, Vanuatu couldn’t buy a goal. Meanwhile New Zealand captain and striker Logan Rogerson had quickly discovered that football in the Pacific Islands is not quite as easy as he thought it was! A nil-nil draw did neither side any favours, Vanuatu won’t make the gold match for sure, while New Zealand will have to find another gear if they are to get through.
The last game of the day, under the lights at the JS Blatter Complex – is that some kind of medical condition? – saw Samoa and Tonga lock horns, as they too played for bragging rights. Tonga looked more organized than in their previous capitulation against the Kiwis – well they couldn’t have been any less organized! But it was Samoa who played the creative possession football, and against a team on their level, they looked good.
However, it was Tonga who nearly scored the opener, when their showman, Hema Polovili, took advantage of a goalkeeping clanger by Faalavelave Matagi and put in a goal bound header. That was until Samoa captain Andrew Setefano intervened to head the ball off the line and away for a corner. Setefano is a born organizer, and a great leader for his team.
When the breakthrough finally came on the hour mark, it was Samoa who struck, and once again the scorer was the lively number 11, Vito Laloata. When the ball found him on the edge of the box, he proved just as he did against New Zealand, that he has strength and good close ball skills, as he held off the Tongan defence, and slid the ball into the far corner, after keeper Malafu lost his bearings completely. Laloata nearly doubled his tally, and Samoa’s, with a thunderous drive but Malafu was up to the challenge and produced an excellent save.
By now Laloata was hungry, and he had the scent of Tongan blood in his nostrils for sure. And some superb trickery from midfielder Andrew Mobberley and a wonderful deep cross, opened the door for Laloata to beat a hesitant Malafu to the ball with a smart header. Two-nil to Samoa and no more than they deserved. It was Samoa’s night.
So what have we have we learned from Game Day 3?
New Caledonia are tough to beat, but the task gets a whole lot harder for any team if the refereeing is not up to standard.
And when the refereeing is simply amateur, one side is bound to suffer, and this time it was the Solomon Islands against a fortunate Tahiti outfit.
Wim Rijsbergen is passionate no question, but he did himself no favours getting a red card.
New Zealand are not the real deal. They are talented but they are young. I will be surprised if PNG don’t knock them off.
American Samoa and Tuvalu really can score goals, and Jaiyah takes no prisoners!
Samoa are easily the best of the minnows and it will be interesting to see how they fare in their final group game against the unlucky Vanuatu eleven.