Guest writer Richard Ewart is in Samoa for the Pacific Games, commentating on the football matches, and he gives his thoughts on the final day of men’s group stage action.
It was the last game of the pool round, and the best game of the pool round.
By: Richard Ewart in Samoa.
On a rain-sodden pitch at Samoa’s national stadium, Fiji and Solomon Islands went head to head for a place in the bronze medal play-off and produced an absolute classic. Fiji were out of the blocks fast, and Roy Krishna was involved in just about everything. His neat inside ball found Patrick Joseph, and he slid the ball past Mango from close range. Bula Boys one up in just five minutes, and they doubled their lead four minutes later with a shot from Samuela Drudru that skated under Mango’s body.
The Bonitos were shell shocked, captain Benji Totori was a worried man, but within a couple of minutes, the Solomons were back in the game. The pressure built on Fiji from a free-kick and two corners, and from the second it was Dennis Ifunaoa who found a way to fire the ball past three defenders from a tight angle.
However controversy has never been far away in this tournament, and with players sliding all over the place in the muddy conditions, the penalty awarded to Roy Krishna in the 19th minute looked harsh at best. Needless to say, India-bound Krishna tucked the kick away and Fiji, needing only a draw to progress, were two goals clear again.
Solomons needed to find some fresh inspiration from somewhere, and an early substitution did the trick. Gagame Feni replaced Jerry Donga and he had an instant impact. Twice he came close with shots from the edge of the box, and then the third one found its target, as Gagame weaved his way along the 18-yard line until he found the right opening. 3-2 and all set up for a cracking second half.
But once again the wind was quickly knocked out of the Bonito’s sails. Another penalty to Krisha. No argument this time as keeper Mango went feet first at the Fiji captain and brought him down. Same outcome, same result and Fiji up 4-2. Then the NZ referee looked to even things up, awarding two penalties to Solomons’ number nine Totori. Both looked questionable in the worsening conditions, but Totoril wasn’t arguing as he put both away to have his team back on level terms at 4-4 with 25 minutes left. Fiji were OK with that, they only needed a draw. Or at least they should’ve been OK, but for a short spell the Fiji of old came to the party, with rash challenges flying in and the Bula Boys looked panicky. But Krishna exerted a calming influence and almost scored goal of the tournament racing half the length of the field, skipping over the mud and outmuscling a trio of defenders before executing a sublime chip that needed only to be a fraction higher to beat Mango. Wonderful stuff. The Solomon Islands never stopped trying and they can be proud of their efforts, but they just couldn’t find that extra goal they needed to stay alive. 4-4 the final score and Fiji will fight for bronze.
The other contenders for bronze will be PNG who had a comfortable win over Tonga by 8-0 in their last pool round. Remarkably the Kapuls played for 89 minutes without a regular keeper. Their number one Ronald Warisan was suspended, and number two Ishmael Pole lasted just sixty seconds before leaving the field with a suspected broken leg. Joshua Talau took over in goal, and will no doubt dine out on the fact that he kept a clean sheet.
New Caledonia rounded out their pool matches with the expected big win over Tuvalu. It finished 11-0 and Jean Philip Saiko scored four to go to the top of the goal scoring charts. And their French rivals accounted for American Samoa 8-1, with captain Teaonui Tehau and Tamatoa Tetauira both scoring hat-tricks. But the highlight was the sheer delight on the faces of the American Samoan players when Chris Faamoana stole the ball in midfield, out paced the Tahiti defence and rifled the ball home. A great memory for the team from Pago Pago who have played with great spirit and determination throughout.
And so to Vanuatu, and who knows how many goals they might have knocked in against the host nation Samoa until the weather intervened. They were four up by the 23 minute mark. All four goals scored by Mitch Cooper including a spectacular overhead effort and a thunderous long rang volley. What a gem coach Paul Munster has uncovered in the Melbourne based player. Vanuatu racked up four more by half time, with two for Tony Kaltack, and after the break he doubled his total, and brother Brian Kaltack, the captain, chipped in with a booming header from a corner to make it 11-0 with 12 minutes to go. But by that stage the rain was hammering down, and the pitch resembled a swimming pool. In a word it was dangerous. The match was won and lost and neither side could progress anyway so why the Malaysian referee chose to stay out there only he can explain. The conditions were 100 percent unplayable, the match turned into a farce, illustrated by Bong Kalo’s attempt to home in on the Samoan goal with a sequence of keepy-ups. The game should’ve been abandoned, with the result to stand, but instead the referee chose to put the welfare of 22 players at risk. It was wrong and shouldn’t have happened. OFC need to take a long hard long.
So what did we learn from Game Day 5?
We knew New Caledonia would take on NZ for gold, now we know Fiji will play PNG for bronze.
We knew Roy Krishna was good, but in the worst of conditions, he showed just how good he is. Maybe the best player ever to come out of the islands?
OK, it was Samoa. But Vanuatu played some scintillating football and were good enough to be in the medal shake-up but luck deserted them in their earlier games.
And American Samoa have a new hero in Chris Faamoana. A goal for the teenager against one of the big boys in Tahiti is something to treasure.
And oh yes, the officials – they’ve been consistent throughout – consistently shocking. There are rumblings in the ranks and you can expect a demand for OFC to take a look at what went wrong post-tournament.
And finally a personal victory for your correspondent! It’s been a battle, but sense has prevailed and both the men’s and women’s gold medal matches will be shown on TV, so the women’s tournament won’t be entirely invisible. Anything to do with Samoa being in the women’s final against PNG? You be the judge!!