A wonder strike from Emmanual Poila in stoppage time has brought Solomon Islands a much needed 1-0 victory to keep alive their hopes in Group B of OFC Stage 3 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTM Qualifiers in Honiara on Sunday.
Two minutes into time added on, Poila sneaked into the Tahiti penalty box to meet a failed clearance before hitting the ball past Michael Roche. The goal electrified the crowd at Lawson Tama Stadium who were repeatedly denied celebrations earlier in the match after some wayward shots from home strikers.
Coming into the match on the back of a 1-0 loss to Tahiti in Papeete on Monday night, Solomon Islands coach Moses Toata was relieved to draw level in the standings and was quick to praise his players for a job well done.
“I must be honest to say that I am very, very happy about the result. I think the boys kept to our plan and kept on persisting and we could have sealed the win earlier in the match but a win is a win for me and I really want to thank my boys,” says Toata.
The Bonitos coach also thanked the home crowd which was impatient at times but in his opinion helped drive his team.
“I also want to thank the specttors – I am very pleased with the support we got from the home crowd. While we do not always get the result we seek I think the home crowd should continue and if we can get this for all of our home matches our boys will be confident also,” Toata added.
The match kicked off to a strong tempo with both sides eager to push forward. Tahiti’s hard work past the halfway mark earned them several free kicks from good positions but their attempts did not threaten the Solomon Islands goal.
The visitors’ best chances of the match came from a cross in the first half that somehow turned towards goal and clipped the crossbar before going over. The Solomon Islands also went close in the first half but the attempts from James Naka did not find their mark.
Moffat Kilifa went close midway through the second half after Joachim Waoroi’s shot rebounded off the crossbar. Kilifa was unmarked inside the box but his shot sailed across the face of goal.
Tahiti coach Ludovic Graugnard lamented losing the match after seeing his team contain the locals for much of the match.
“It is not a good result for us – when you lose a match it is never a good result. I think both teams have good chances to score and for us it is very hard to lose in stoppage time. We should have concentrated for longer because at this level we need to focus for 95 minutes but today we only concentrated for 92 minutes,” said Graugnard.
At the same time Graugnard also acknowledged the performance of his team and the way they defended, something that frustrated the home side as again and again they met with as Tahitian brick wall.
“I think we were strong defensively since we won a lot of the battles in the middle of the field,” says Graugnard.
Solomon Islands will take a long break and will resume their campaign in the 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaTM Qualifiers against neighbors Papua New Guinea in June 2017. Before then, Tahiti meet Papua New Guinea home and away on match days three and four in the March international window.
Match day two concludes on Tuesday in Kone, where New Caledonia host New Zealand at Stade Yoshida. The All Whites won their home leg 2-0 in Auckland on Saturday to take an early lead in Group A.