- Solomon Islands qualify for Lithuania 2020
- Fourth consecutive qualification for the Melanesians
- 2019 OFC qualifiers marked by greatly heightened competition
Solomon Islands have long been the undisputed kings of futsal in Oceania. Since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation, the Kurukuru have qualified for three FIFA Futsal World Cups with room to spare.
Yet, New Zealand were just one minute away from breaking that long-held hegemony in Saturday’s OFC Futsal Nations Cup decider. Ultimately, however, it was a case of a bridge too far as Solomon Islands equalised amid a chaotic final minute in an extraordinary 5-5 draw, before prevailing 2-1 on penalties.
While the Solomons once again locked up qualification to the FIFA Futsal World Cup, which next year will be held in Lithuania, the 2019 edition of the OFC Futsal Nations Cup will be viewed as a something of a milestone event. Held over a single week at Arena du Sud on the outskirts of New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, the tournament brought together eight teams from across the Pacific, two more than four years ago in Fiji.
OFC have spent considerable resources in recent years developing futsal and beach soccer across the region and the investment is starting to yield dividends. While there was some heavy scoring during the group stage, there was little to separate the top-four nations. New Zealand edged Tahiti 3-2 in their last-four encounter, while the usually free-scoring Solomons Islands were only 3-1 ahead of the hosts before two goals in the final minute blew the scoreline out.
Polynesian pair Tonga and American Samoa both made their debut at the tournament. Tonga’s appearance follows on from their U-18 women’s team featuring at last year’s Youth Olympic Games. American Samoa finished second from bottom, one position clear of their neighbours, with a notable squad inclusion being well-known national 11-a-side team goalkeeper Nicky Salapu whose international career stretches over two decades.
Solomon Islands had their own headline-grabber between the posts, in the shape of Anthony Talo, who famously scored for the Kurukuru during their only win on the world stage seven years ago in Thailand.
The level of competition among the leading pack was evident to Solomon Islands coach Vinicius Laite. “New Zealand will go to the next World Cup if he [New Zealand coach Marvin Eakins] keeps doing what he is doing,” he said. “The level and quality displayed here today was amazing. I’m happy for my team and very sad for New Zealand.”
New Caledonia were guided by experienced Brazilian coach Juliano Schmeling, but had to settle for fourth behind Tahiti after losing on penalties following another 5-5 draw.
For New Zealand it was a case so near, yet so far. “It’s been quite a journey over the last couple of years, the guys put in so much hard work, put it out on the court and I couldn’t ask any more from them in that game,” said Eakins.
“It was a great final, when we look back at it maybe we could have done this or that but sometimes it can be out of your hands and we did what we could. I’m glad the Solomons are going, they’re a great team and I know they’ll represent us well at the World Cup.”
Golden Ball – Dylan Manickum (New Zealand)
Golden Boot – Nicky Malivuk (New Zealand), Olivier Hirihiri (Tahiti)
Golden Gloves – Anthony Talo (Solomon Islands)
Fair Play Award – American Samoa