Solomon Islands have finished second behind New Zealand after a 5-4 penalty shootout in the OFC U-16 Championship at Lawson Tama today in Honiara.
Both teams have secured qualification to the FIFA U-17 World Cup heading into the final.
It was a closely contested match in the first half as both sides threaten to open the scoring.
New Zealand’s Henry Hamilton missed an early chance in the opening five minutes.
Tournament’s top scorer Raphael Lea’i had some half chances in the first half but tight defending by the junior All Whites kept the Solomon Islands wonder-kid at bay.
It was stalemate at the break as both teams went back into the sheds.
Solomon Islands regrouped in the second half as the better side as Lea’i brought two crucial saves from New Zealand keeper Alex Paulsen.
The young Kiwis best chance was a long range effort by Marko Stamenic which hits the bottom corner.
The hosts were award a penalty in added time unfortunately Lea’i spot kick was saved by Paulsen.
Based on the tournament’s regulation, the final will go straight into a penalty shootout after 90 minutes.
Paulsen saved Derrick Taebo’s penalty to New Zealand defend their title.
Solomon Islands coach Stanley Waita said he is still proud of his boys despite the result.
“I’m very proud of my boys, they did well”, the former Solomon Islands international said.
“The first half they were a bit sleepy and the second half we came up strong and we should have finished the game in the 91 minute but unfortunately we didn’t take our chance.
“New Zealand got their chance in the penalty shootout and they took it.
“This young side they have a bright future and we expect a lot from them in the future, they’ll keep improving.”
Waita added that they knew New Zealand will approached the game with a different tactical style compared to their group clash.
“We expected the tactical change from New Zealand and we were supposed to do something but as I said, in the first half the boys were sleeping and in the second half it works out that we countered. But congratulations to New Zealand.
“For the crowds, fantastic, I’m proud of you. Thank you for the support that you have rendered.
“Whether you are watching in your house or out here at Lawson Tama, thank you for the support. The support makes history for us so thank you”, Waita stated.
New Zealand coach Jose Figueira gave credit to his players and what Solomon Islands has to offer as a football mad nation.
“There is plenty to say about it and I probably can’t find the words right now”, the English man said.
“But, I said to the guys on the side there before that final penalty, ‘we’ve quite possibly experienced everything there is to experience in what is an absolutely incredible place for football in this region.
“What the boys have learned and gone through, and succeeded is only going to do huge things for us moving forward into the world cup next year.”
Solomon Islands and New Zealand will next go back to the drawing board in preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru next year.
Solomon Islands [SOL]: 0
New Zealand [NZL]: 0
Solomon Islands: 4 (Scored: Chris SATU, Maxwell KEANA, Charles MANI, Raphael LE’AI Missed: Derick TAEBO)
New Zealand 5 (Scored: Oskar VAN HATTUM, Marko STAMENIC, Matt GARBETT, Joseph LEE, Sean BRIGHT)
Individual Awards: Fair Play Award (Solomon Islands), Golden Boot and Golden Ball (Raphael Lea’i)