The business end of the OFC Nations Cup begins tomorrow at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, Solomon Islands, with the four semi-finalists set to face off for a place in the final.
Hosts Solomon Islands who is running second in the progressive score ladder in group B have joined Tahiti in the first match of the semi finals at 11am local time while New Caledonia and defending champions New Zealand will battle it out in the final match of the day after a thrilling sixth day of action at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara.
The Bonitos booked their passage from Group B with a historic 1-1 draw against New Zealand – a country they had never earned a positive result against – while Fiji will be returning home after also posting a 1-1 tie in a match against Papua New Guinea they needed to win to have any chance of progessing.
Here’s a look at the action that’s in store.
Tahiti vs. Solomon Islands – 11:00am Friday 8 June
This clash promises to be an entertaining affair as both sides play an attacking brand of football and will be full of confidence after posting some impressive results in pool play. With 18 strikes, Tahiti are the tournament’s most prolific outfit – although that figure is inflated somewhat by their 10-1 humbling of Samoa – and the Tehau brothers of Lorenzo, Alvin and Jonathan are also near the top of the individual scoring charts. With three wins on the trot, Tahiti are the only side with a perfect record in Honiara but something will have to give tomorrow as Solomon Islands are also undefeated after posting a win and two draws. The hosts are on a high as the last of those ties was one of the most memorable results in the country’s history – a 1-1 thriller with New Zealand yesterday – and, in a big boost to the Bonitos’ chances, talismanic striker Benjamin Totori is in fine fettle. The former Waitakere United star scored the winner in the opening 1-0 win over Papua New Guinea but was rested for the scoreless stalemate against Fiji. As a result, he came out firing against New Zealand and was largely to thank for earning the historic draw after scoring a stunning individual goal. At the other end, Nelson Sale Kilifa has been an immovable object at the heart of the Bonitos defence but he will have his hands full in dealing with the physical presence of Alvin Tehau. That battle will be a key to the outcome, as will Totori’s with the likes of Tahiti captain Nicolas Vallar and no-nonsense fullback Angelo Tchen. Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta has a full squad to pick from while the Bonitos’ only injury concern is Mostyn Beui, who had to be withdrawn in the first half of the second match against Fiji.
In their own words
“We are very happy to have qualified for the semi-finals and I think it proves that these are the best teams in the region as New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and ourselves all also made the semi-finals of the Pacific Games. The players are very confident for tomorrow and all the pressure will be on the Solomons as they are playing at home.” – Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta
“We set a benchmark yesterday with our match against New Zealand and it was good to have a performance like that just before the semi-finals. I think our group was more difficult than the other and Tahiti are probably more fresh than us. But it’s not a championship now, it’s a one-off game. It should be a good match because we try to play good football and so do Tahiti.” – Solomon Islands technical advisor Laurent Papillon
New Zealand vs. New Caledonia – 3:00pm Friday 8 June
Two sides with Oceania crowns will come up against each other in this one as New Zealand’s All Whites are the defending Nations Cup champions while Les Cagous won the 2011 Pacific Games – a tournament New Zealand do not take part in. The winner here therefore has reason to call themselves the best side in Oceania, at least until the silverware is presented after Sunday’s final. Due to their status as reigning champions and the fact they are yet to lose, New Zealand go in as favourites but will be wary of a New Caledonia side packed full of attacking talent. Bertrand Kai, top scorer at the Pacific Games, caused problems for all of Les Cagous’ Group A opponents and will have relatively fresh legs after sitting out much of the last pool match against Samoa. Worryingly for All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, New Caledonia’s other major offensive weapon, lightning-fast winger Georges Gope-Fenepej, will also be raring to go after missing the 9-0 Samoa win through suspension. But New Zealand likewise have plenty of players who will cause concern and many of these are also fresh after Herbert elected to put out a second string side against Solomon Islands. Ben Sigmund, Michael McGlinchey, Shane Smeltz, Chris Killen and Ivan Vicelich were all not even included on the bench in that 1-1 draw but they will surely be reinstated for this clash as New Zealand look to book a spot at the FIFA Confederations Cup by successfully defending their title. The only player potentially unavailable to Herbert is veteran goalkeeper Mark Paston, who is still suffering the effects of a head knock picked up in the first match against Fiji, while Les Cagous will be without the suspended Jean Patrick Wakanumune.
In their own words
“It’s been very challenging so far and I think there’s no doubt that trend will continue. New Caledonia have had some good results in pool play as well so I think they’re going to be very tough to get past. But we’re certainly looking forward to it, we all came here to be part of this stage of the tournament and tomorrow will be a very interesting day.” – New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert
“We have a lot of respect for New Zealand but will play them the same way we have the other teams. We want to show that New Caledonia can compete on the world stage and we hope to create a surprise. New Zealand are very well organised and have not conceded many goals. So we need to be strong defensively because it will be hard to come back and score if we go behind.” – New Caledonia assistant coach Thierry Sardo