New Zealand begin title defence with strong win over Solomon Islands

June 18, 2024 4:35 pm

[Source: OFC Media via Phototek]

The Solomon Islands have been eliminated from the OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 after a young New Zealand team secured a comfortable 3-0 win in Port Vila on Tuesday.

New Zealand will now meet Vanuatu on Friday to decide who finishes top of Group A, with both sides assured of a semi-final place.

The Kiwis fielded two debutants, with goalkeeper Alex Paulsen and Sam Sutton making their international bows, while the Solomon Islands made four changes from their loss to Vanuatu on Saturday.

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The omission of Rafa Le’ai was the major talking point as coach Jacob Moli opted for a more conservative line-up with five defenders.

Before the match, a minute silence was observed for former New Zealand Football Chief Executive Bob Patterson, who was a key figure in football in his home country and across the Oceania Football Confederation.

The Solomon Islands had caused New Zealand teams many problems in the past and Coach Darren Bazeley was keen for his young team to make an early mark and not let their skilful opponents get into their famous flow.

The Englishman got his dream start when a quick Ben Waine double took the sting out of the match after only 11 minutes.

The Plymouth Argyle forward had only scored once before in his previous 13 internationals, but doubled that tally after five minutes when he turned his defender to rifle home from close range.

Waine quickly doubled the lead six minutes later following a beautiful assist from Tim Payne, virtually ending the last hopes of progressing for Jacob Moli and this side.

The courageous Solomon Islands team refused to throw in the towel and kept pushing forward when possible, which was nearly rewarded when Gagame Feni ‘s stinging shot nearly found the top corner.

Coach Moli switched to a more attacking line-up as the game wore on, bringing on trump card Le’ai, but the New Zealand defence, with 20-year-old Finn Surman and 19-year-old Tyler Bindon in the centre, stood firm against the increased the increased pressure.

Surman’s eyes lit up at the other end when he was allowed a free header from a New Zealand corner only to be denied by goalkeeper Phillip Mango. Sadly for Mango the ball dropped straight to Kosta Barbarouses who converted from close range to make it three.

Solomons Islands worked hard to get back into the match, but Le’ai saw his shot go wide and Javin Alick’s long range effort left goalkeeper Paulsen untroubled.

Coach Moli emptied his bench in a bid to avoid elimination, while Bazeley gave Jesse Randall, Oskar van Hattum, Lukas Kelly-Heald and Fin Conchie their first cap for New Zealand.

Encouraged by a large crowd at VFF Freshwater Stadium, the courageous Solomon Islanders ran their socks off till the bitter end to at least get on the scoreboard. Rafa Le’ai came agonisingly close to doing so but his low effort thudded off the post in stoppage time.

The results confirms who will advance from Group A, with Friday’s fixture between New Zealand and Vanuatu to determine who tops the section heading into the semi-finals.