Solomon Islands national U-16 team secured the country’s debut football World Cup berth after a 3-1 win over Fiji in the OFC U-16 Championship on home soil today at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara.
The hosts started the match on the front foot when Raphael Lea’i set up Charles Mani’s 45 seconds goal after kick-off with what proved to be the fasted goal so far in the competition.
Solomon Islands settled down well into the game with majority of the ball possession but the junior Bula boys put up a good battle whenever they win the ball.
Lea’i was man marked by Thomas Dunn leaving more room for Mani in the attacking third.
Lea’i turn provider again in the 29th minutes with a brilliant cross which Mani scored from close range to extend the home side’s lead.
A lapse of concentration in added minutes of the first half saw Nikhi Pillay had a run behind the Solomon Islands back four to pulled a goal back for the Fijians.
Solomon Islands leading 2-1 at the break as both teams had everything to play for in the second half.
It was an open game in the second half as both teams were searching for a goal to turn the game on its head.
Lea’i scored his eight goal of the tournament late in the game to put the icing on the cake for the hosts with a well taken goal.
Solomon Islands coach Stanley Waita was very emotional at full time as he said the country has waited too long for such moment.
“I can’t explain how I feel right now. It’s a massive…it’s a massive win for us. We just want to celebrate”, the former Solomon Islands international said.
“We’ve been waiting for the moment. Solomon Islands have been trying to go through to the 11-a-side code, we’ve been with futsal, beach soccer, but the massive one is 11-a-side code which the country is waiting for.
“This is the day the country is waiting for – we’re through to the World Cup.”
Waita insisted that his boys played according their game plan but everything changes when Fiji scored.
“According to our game plan we were supposed to score early goals, we did it really early, 50 seconds and then we sit a bit and it allowed Fiji to have a bit of pressure on us.
“I asked my boys to step up in the second half. Fiji scored just before and the good thing about my boys is they kept working, the whole department working.
“We were looking for another goal and finally Raphael scores his eighth goal for this tournament which is big, big, big”, Waita explained.
Charles Mani was in tears at full time as the boys have made history after their semi-final victory.
“We all aimed to go to the World Cup months before the tournament started so I was in tears when the referee blown the final whistle”, Mani said.
“It is a dream come through for all of us but we will enjoy this moment and ready for the final on Saturday.”
Like Mani, Lea’i was adamant before the tournament that they will make history for the country.
“Like I said before we are aiming to qualify and today it was the day we all have been waiting for”, the Solomon Islands future star said.
“I would like to dedicate the win to all Solomon Islanders both at home and abroad.”
Fiji coach Yogendra Dutt was satisfied with his young lads for giving the home team a good game.
“What I have learned throughout my career is one thing is winning and another is satisfaction”, Dutt said.
“We are really satisfied by the performance given by the boys, this is how far they have come and this is what they could do.
“We are pleased and proud of the performance and I know that in the future these boys will become a big force if they can stay together.”
Solomon Islands will take New Zealand in the final on Saturday at 3pm.