Waroi's inspiration enables Solympic to beat Fiji and finished second on the ladder
With New Zealand’s Olympic berth yet to be ratified by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) there was added pressure on both Fiji and Solomon Islands to finish as high as possible in this competition to take advantage should NZOC decide not to send New Zealand’s Oly-Whites to Beijing.
Without Benjamin Totori, Alick Maemae or Nelson Sale following Solomon Islands implosion against New Zealand, Fiji team itself was the subject of scrutiny by the media and public desperate for success.
That script appeared to be playing itself out when Roy Krishna – possibly one of the shortest players in the tournament – was allowed to win a header from a corner and blast it into the Solomon Islands net from close range after just 5 minutes.
It’s a feature of Solomon Islands teams and the Solympics team in particular that defending from set-pieces is an Achilles heel exposed by short and tall opponents alike.
As unpalatable as it may be to Solomon Islands fans of how the game should be played - that is with the ball on the ground with quick feet, rather than in the air bouncing around - it is nevertheless a discipline that will have to be digested if Solomon Islands wish to become a more multi-faceted force to contend with rather than a team of technically gifted speed merchants, attractive to watch at times, but without constructive or controlled aggression, or disciplined ruthlessness.
That appeared to accurately describe this latest Solomon Islands performance when Maciu Dunadamu made it 2-0 for Fiji on 23 minutes with a good finish that looked like it could be enough to seal the match given the paucity of resistance offered by Luke Eroi’s cast of stand-ins.
How wrong an assessment that turned out to be. Starting with Joachim Waroi on 27 minutes, Solomon Islands produced a 14 minute period of play the like of which hadn’t previously been seen in 1287 minutes of football.
Waroi’s 27th minute goal threw Solomon Islands a lifeline to a match that looked to have sailed off into the distance and was about to disappear over the horizon.
Within 12 minutes the thrilling Michael Fifi had drawn the game level with a breathtaking individual goal that had been on its way for some time as Waroi and Fifi somehow found a new lease of life. Fifi’s piercing run then stunning long range shot will live in the memory for some time as the travelling fans – down from the local university to support Solomon Islands – were brought to their feet the instant Fifi’s shot struck the back of the Fiji net to make it 2-2.
Fiji barely had time to register its 2-0 lead had gone up in flames before Waroi scored a stunning third to make it 3-2 after 41 minutes.
This was football as it was meant to be enjoyed – a competitive match, no shortage of skill and entertainment - and more drama was just around the corner when the normally placid Joachim Rande put in a crude tackle on Krishna Samy that earned a straight red card from referee Michael Hester.
Down to ten players, it was difficult to see how Solomon Islands could hold out a Fiji team desperate to hang onto any sort of Olympic Games hope in front of a home crowd not easily impressed at the best of times and often derisive at the worst.
Captain Malakai Tiwa – a player that has excelled in every match for Fiji – gave it his best shot alongside a Roy Krishna who has come to life in recent matches but nevertheless looks as if he has played within his abilities.
The remainder of the match was an end-to-end affair as both sides sought to retrieve its respective Olympic hopes with an approach that made for absorbing entertainment. Shameel Rao added to that dramatic equation when he was sent off by Michael Hester leaving both teams with ten players.
3-2 it remained giving Solomon Islands a slim – but unlikely – chance of representing Oceania in Beijing should the NZOC decline New Zealand Football’s ratification as part of the New Zealand Olympic Games effort.
In other matches played yesterday, New Zealand cruised to an expected 8-0 thumping of minnows Cook Islands whilst PNG produced another sterling performance to crush Vanuatu 7-2.