Wednesday 19 September 2018 could mark one of the most important days in Solomon Islands football history as the national U-16 side take on Fiji for a place in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Coached by former international Stanley Waita, who significantly contributed to the story of Solomon Islands football as a player, the opportunity for his team to do what he and his teammates couldn’t is there for the taking.
Solomon Islands romped through the group stage scoring 15 goals without conceding once to top Group A ahead of tournament favourites and defending champions New Zealand.
Despite the relative ease in which they progressed to the semi-finals, Waita is by no means taking this next game lightly.
“I think this will not be an easy game,” he stated.
“Following on from the pool matches, I think this will be the hardest one for us.”
Solomon Islands made the semi-finals of this tournament in 2017, missing out on a place in the final after going down 3-2 to New Caledonia. Prior to that, their last appearance in a final at this level was in 1993, a match which they lost 3-0 to former OFC Member Association Australia.
Waita is confident that his young side can draw on the home crowd support and the missed opportunities of their peers to send Solomon Islands to its first football world cup tournament.
“I think we are looking forward to the game and in the camp everyone is looking forward to it,” he said.
“It’s a big game for us. We’ve been to the semi-finals in the past few youth tournaments and we believe that this is our time and we’ll be going for it.”
But Solomon Islands will be up against an equally determined opponent in Fiji, another nation that has promised so much at youth level but missed out by the narrowest of margins in recent times.
Fiji’s path to the semi-finals wasn’t quite as straight forward as their opponent with Group B throwing up some surprises.
Their opening match against Samoa saw then forced to dig deep in the second half and pull themselves back into contention after allowing their opponent to take a 2-0 lead. Fiji showed their resolve coming back to secure a 3-2 win but it was by no means an easy feat.
They then lost their second match to eventual group leaders Tahiti which meant they needed to get a result against New Caledonia in their final match if they were to continue in the competition.
Fortunately for coach Yogendra Dutt, his side proved they were worthy of their place in the semi-finals after securing a 1-0 win to set up their semi-final showdown with the hosts.
“This tournament is a bit different to some of the previous ones with the set of boys that we have,” Dutt said of the run of luck Fiji has had at regional youth level since qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.
“Although we have different resources, the way they play, the way they have taken the commands from staff, we are very proud of their work on the field,” Dutt continued.
Like his opponent, Dutt believes tomorrow’s game will be the toughest encounter yet.
“It will come down to how we prepare for this match, especially mentally,” he said.
“I’m not new to Solomons – the people from Solomon Islands love football, the crowd loves football and Lawson Tama is a great place to play football.
“We know we will be the underdogs out there tomorrow, but then we will see how we handle the pressure, how the boys handle pressure and we will try and play this game to the best of our ability – it’s will be very important for us.”
Solomon Islands vs. Fiji
Wednesday 19 September
Lawson Tama Stadium
Honiara, Solomon Islands
KO: 10:00 local (11 h FIJ & NZL / Tuesday 18 September 13h TAH)
Referee: David YAREBOINEN (PNG)
Assistant Referee 1: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Gareth SHEEHAN (NZL)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Solomon Islands: 1. Davidson MALAM (GK), 2. Derick TAEBO, 3. Stanford FAKASORI, 4. Leon KOFANA, 5. Javin WAE, 6. Alford KANAHANIMAE, 7. Steward QUANAFIA, 8. Maxwell KEANA, 9. Charles MANI, 10. Raphael LE’AI, 11. Chris SATU, 12. Gideon SUTA, 13. Densley GESINI, 14. Richie KWAIMAMANI, 15. Philip ROPA, 16. Clayton MENAPA, 17. Hamilton PAO, 18. Fabio PAO, 19. Benbate LAMUPIO, 20. Pateson TONGAKA (GK)
Coach: Stanley WAITA (SOL)
Fiji: 1. Isikeli SEVANAIA (GK), 2. Rahul NARESH, 3. Inoke TURAGALAILAI, 4. Peceli SUKABULA, 5. Isikeli TOVILO, 6. Thomas DUNN, 7. Melvin MANI, 8. Abhishek PRASAD, 9. Eshan KUMAR, 10. Josaia SELA, 11. Nikhi PILLAY, 13. Mohammed ISHRAT, 14. Mohammed NABEEL, 15. Kunaal NAND, 16. Netani SULUKA, 17. Joji NAQAQALIVA, 18. Samuela NAVOCE, 19. Rohan NATH, 20. Aminio TUILEVU (GK)
Suspended: 12. Clarence HUSSAIN
Coach: Yogendra DUTT (FIJ)