Playing village football and representing your country at a major tournament in the same year does not happen too often, let alone in the Solomon Islands where football is like a religion.
This is actually what three provincial players are relishing with the Solomon Islands national U-19 team.
Patrick Taroga, Lino Houairia and Junior David are living their dreams at the OFC U-19 Championship currently held in the French Polynesia.
However, their debut on the big stage didn’t turn out well as they were given a wakeup call by New Caledonia in the opening 20 minutes of the Group B opener on Tuesday.
New Caledonia captain Cryril Drawilo scored a 23rd minute penalty to put the Francophone side in front.
Debutants Lino and David combined brilliantly in the 41st minute to bring life back into the encounter.
It was like the same story all over again for the Solomons, but Houairia show the never-die spirit as he slots home the ball inside the back post from a David’s time perfect cross.
Speaking to SIFF Media in an exclusive interview, Lino said it was a historic moment for him.
“I couldn’t believe the feeling I felt after the scoring the equaliser, it was my first competitive goal in a national jersey,” the Are’are lad said.
“Thank you to my coaches, teammates and family back home for the support since day one.
“I am living my dream of playing for my country and hope we will go further in this tournament”.
Another outstanding player in the 3-2 win over New Caledonia, David insist his performance in the opener is all come down to hard work.
“As for me, I have been working hard for the last five months for this tournament, coming into this tournament we were told to everything”, he said.
“I was thinking if a moment we need to give everything we’ve got, this is the time to give everything for our country.
“I believe the win over New Caledonia is a moral boost for us as you can see on the faces of the players after the game.”
Like Lino, midfielder Taroga was outstanding throughout the 90 minutes against their fierce Melanesian rivals.
He displayed self-confidence when striker Ali Makewir was brought down in the box for a penalty in the second half.
The game was 1-1 at that time, thus, Taroga smartly picked his spot to put the young Solomon Islanders 2-1 in front.
“For me it’s my first time to be playing in such tournament like the OFC Championship,” he said.
“I don’t have experience playing on this level, but I gave it all to help my team.
“Thank God for the strength, he gives me the confidence to score the penalty which help us go on to win the game.”
The native Are’are lad is one of the two U19 players called up to join the national senior men’s team for the Asian tour later this month.
When asked what it feels likes to earn the call, Taroga insisted it’s a dream come true.
“I think making the national team is a dream for any player in the Solomons.
“For now I need to focus on the U19 tournament first before switching attention to the national senior team.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn from the experience players in the national team”.
Other provincial based players making their debut against New Caledonia are Frank Kabui, Anthony Rasau and Henly Ramo.
Meanwhile, Solomon Islands are currently sitting second in Group B of the OFC U-19 Championship.
With decent victories in their opening matches, Solomon Islands and Fiji have a clear path to make it into the last four with another win on Friday when they meet at Stade Pater in the day’s opening match.
Coach Batram Suri said he has a game plan to take on the Fijians in the crucial Group B clash.
“I think Fijians are strong and physical but we have to be too if we want to win the game,” the former Solomon Islands international said.
“We have to challenge them in every area and I’m looking forward to playing against Fiji in our second match.”
Fiji coach Bal Reddy respects Solomon Islands going into the game on Friday.
“I know Solomons will be gearing up for another three points and we are also there for the three points. We need to get the composure and get the boys back to the level where they’re supposed to be – flying high.
“We cannot take Solomon Islands lightly because they are a very good side.”
Solomon Islands vs. Fiji
Friday 10 August
Stade Pater, Tahiti
Kick-off: 12h00 local
Referee: David YAREBOINEN (PNG)
Assistant Referee 1: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: John PAREANGA (COK)
Fourth Official: Nick WALDRON (NZL)
Solomon Islands: 1. Joel NANAGO (GK), 2. George LEAGA, 3. John AETA, 4. Aengari GAGAME, 5. Absolom WAWANE, 6. Patrick TAROGA, 7. Junior DAVID, 8. Henly RAMO, 9. Ali MEKAWIR, 10. Marcus CHAN, 11. Lino HOUAIRIA, 12. Junior MATA (GK), 13. Junior ASHLEY, 14. Franck KABUI, 15. Anthony KASAU, 16. Don KEANA, 17. Tuita MAEOBIA, 18. William KOMASI, 19. Simon JEDZINI, 20. Raynick LAETA
Coach: Batram SURI (SOL)
Fiji: 1. Mohammed ALAM (GK), 2. Mohammed RASASA, 3. Semi MATALAU, 4. Apisai SESEWA, 5. Sekove NAIVAKANANUMI, 6. Mohammed NAIZAL, 7. Phillip LEONG, 8. Joeli RANITU, 9. Merril NAND, 10. Mohammed KHAN, 12. Kishan SAMI, 13. Savenaca BALEDROKROKA, 14. Tito VODOWAQA, 15. Iliesa RAKUKA, 16. Ratu DAU, 17. Shivam NAIDU, 18. Isake NADUVU, 19. Peni TUIGULAGULA, 20. Asaeli BATIKASA (GK)
Coach : Bal REDDY (FIJ)