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    Articles related to OCEANIA 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Preview Apr 25, 2004
    Preview May 27, 2004
    Update May 30, 2004
    Update Jun 2, 2004
    Update Jun 4, 2004
    Update Jun 6, 2004
    Wrap-up Jun 28, 2004
    Update Sep 4, 2005
    Wrap-up Sep 19, 2005
    Preview Nov 8, 2005
    Update Nov 13, 2005
    Update Nov 16, 2005




    Update: OFC qualifiers, Stage 2, Days 2 & 3 - Solomons could be kings; Vanuatu stuns the Kiwis

    by Paul Marcuccitti

    New Zealand 3 Solomon Islands 0 (HT 1-0)
    Australia 9 Tahiti 0 (HT 3-0)
    Fiji 1 Vanuatu 0 (HT 0-0)

    Australia 6 Fiji 1 (HT 2-1)
    Tahiti 0 Solomon Islands 4 (HT 0-3)
    New Zealand 2 Vanuatu 4 (HT 0-1)

        Maybe you have a passing interest in what goes on in Oceania. You know that, despite some occasional resistance, Australia and New Zealand will usually beat the other teams comfortably. And you see that, on Day 2 of Oceania's Stage 2 qualifiers, New Zealand defeated the Solomon Islands 3-0. No surprise, huh?

        You might even look at when the goals were scored and see that the Kiwis got one in the first half and two in the last ten minutes. So you probably figure that, in the second half, New Zealand heaped pressure on the stubborn Solomon Islanders until finally breaking through to score a second goal.

        If that is what you figured, you are 100% incorrect. Let me put this in capital letters so you don't miss what I'm about to say: THE SOLOMON ISLANDS DOMINATED THE SECOND HALF AND SHOULD HAVE SCORED ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS.

    Did you get that?

        In fact, in the 75th minute, I wrote the following words on my notepad: "NZ will be lucky to get out of this alive".

        OK, it's football, not war. But this was a match that could have seen an upset that shook Oceania. You might recall that I predicted the Solomon Islands would finish 3rd and New Zealand 2nd (and I did say New Zealand might be a little vulnerable). Whatever eventuates, I have little doubt that the Solomons are the best of the qualifiers from Stage 1. They tore New Zealand apart and will rue their wastefulness in front of goal.

        The Solomons fired their first warning in the second minute as Commins Menapi beat New Zealand's offside trap but lost control of the ball just as he was about to enter the penalty area. In the 11th minute, midfielder Stanley Waita shot over the bar after some nervy moments in the All Whites' defence and the outstanding Batram Suri had another chance a minute later. The only New Zealand effort in an entertaining first 15 minutes was an Ivan Vicelich shot which went straight to Solomons goalkeeper, Severino Aefi.

        The All Whites started to lift midway through the first half but not before the Solomons' Stanley Waita had put another shot wide after a cross from the sensational Alick Maemae. The impressive Brent Fisher had a chance in the 23rd minute but, despite beginning to control more of the ball, New Zealand wasn't able to create clear cut chances. Some great build up play created a chance for Commins Menapi in the 27th minute but he shot straight at Kiwi 'keeper, Mark Paston. Three minutes later, Batram Suri forced yet another save from the All Whites' custodian.

        The final quarter of an hour of the first half was the Kiwis' best period of the match. A thunderbolt from Simon Elliott (captaining the team with Ryan Nelson still injured) rattled the crossbar in the 32nd minute. Had it gone in, it would have been the goal of the week.

        Appropriately, it was Elliott who created a New Zealand goal in the 36th minute. He has been the team's best player this week and his good work enabled Brent Fisher to open the scoring. Fisher also hit the bar just before the half time whistle after a cross from Aaran Lines.

        After some dour football on Day 1, this match was providing bags of entertainment. The tiny crowd, impressed by the Solomons' performance, might have thought that the Kiwis would control the second period after taking the lead. But, until the 80th minute, the Solomons dominated the half with an unforgettable display of flair and skill.

        They nearly went 0-2 down in the 48th minute, though. Defender Mahlon Houkarawa was forced to clear the ball off the goal line after a scramble in the penalty box. Two minutes later, there was panic at the other end as Commins Menapi blocked a kick from Kiwi 'keeper Paston. Unfortunately for the Solomons' striker, the ball ran too close to the touchline so, by the time he collected it, the chance was lost.

        The Solomons' best chance came in the 51st minute. Maemae hit the post with a header and the rebound fell to Menapi but his shot was saved by Paston. Both players really should have scored.

        The flurry continued in the 54th minute with Maemae again - this time he shot over the bar. In the 69th minute, George Suri forced another brilliant save from Paston. The tropical islanders were scintillating; their wonderful passing and movement delighting all who saw it. But it just wouldn't go in, would it!

        Totally against the run of play, New Zealand made it 2-0 in the 81st minute. Tubby Solomons goalkeeper Severino Aefi, who had been faultless thus far, came to collect an innocuous ball at the edge of the penalty area. But he spilled the ball, probably because he was afraid of handballing outside the area. The ball was gratefully received by Duncan Oughton (who had just come onto the field) and he slotted it into the unguarded net. Well, that's football!

        Understandably, the Solomons were crushed. New Zealand controlled the last 10 minutes and, cruelly, Aaran Lines, one of the Kiwis' better players, made it 3-0 in injury time and the New Zealanders were off the hook.

        You have to wonder how the Solomons feel after a match like that. Are they devastated that they didn't draw or win? Or are they pleased to have played so well against a traditional Oceania power? Either way, there's no denying their talent. The "fab four" of Batram Suri, Alick Maemae, Commins Menapi and Henry Fa'arodo were fantastic against New Zealand. George Suri has shown himself to be an excellent centre back and right midfielder Stanley Waita also caused the Kiwis a few problems.

        Now, just a few more words on Alick Maemae. He's only 18 years old and if he doesn't have the talent to play professional soccer, I'm no judge at all. He's young enough to continue to develop and he's blessed with pace and skill. I can't say I've noticed scouts in the small crowds thus far but if I managed a European club, I'd have him over for a trial immediately!

        The two matches that followed on Day 2 were always going to struggle to match the action of New Zealand v Solomon Islands. Indeed, for different reasons, both were disappointing.

        If the Socceroos were haunted by nearly losing to Tahiti two years ago, they laid some ghosts to rest with a comprehensive 9-0 victory against the same opponent. However, only two of the Australian players that took the field last Monday night actually played in the famous encounter in Auckland: Jade North and Scott Chipperfield. This reflects the difference in the attitude of Australian soccer's new administration - now we call up overseas-based players for every competitive international.

        Predictably, Australia created a hatful of early chances. A Stan Lazaridis cross was headed wide by John Aloisi in the 3rd minute; Tim Cahill was just wide with a volley in the 7th minute; and Aloisi shot straight at the keeper in the 8th minute.

        After a well-worked corner, Tim Cahill opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a fine header from another Lazaridis cross. It was Cahill's first goal for the Socceroos.

        Tahiti tried to hit back immediately and, in the 16th minute, Axel Temataua tried his luck with - what would turn out to be - the only Tahitian shot in the entire match.

        Australia was probably guilty of over-finessing for most of the rest of the first half and Tahiti's discipline ensured that the Socceroos were restricted to a 27th minute shot from Josip Skoko and a 30th minute header from Chipperfield. Tahiti made one break down the wing but, having pulled so many players back, there was no one in the centre to cross to.

        Two late goals sent the Socceroos to the break with a 3-0 lead. In the 43rd minute, Josip Skoko struck a wonderful shot from the edge of the penalty area and, two minutes later, Tahiti left back Vincent Simon (the last Tahitian to score a goal for his country at the right end) headed a swerving Lazaridis free kick into his own net.

        The Tahitians probably lost heart after that because in the second half they lost the shape and discipline that had been a feature of the first 45 minutes. In the 47th minute, another Tim Cahill header (from a corner) made it 4-0 to Australia and then Mile Sterjovski, on as a substitute, scored a quick hat trick. The FC Basel striker converted an Ahmad Elrich cross in the 51st minute and a Tony Vidmar cross in the 62nd minute. His third came from a goalmouth scramble in the 74th minute - just a minute after Tim Cahill put a shot wide.

        Australia was using the full width of the park more effectively in the second half and although Lazaridis was substituted at half time, Tony Vidmar moved to left back and made plenty of good overlapping runs. Cahill and Vince Grella had also been dominant for the Aussies.

        Seeking a hat trick of his own, the splendid Cahill forced a great save out of Tahiti 'keeper Daniel Tapeta in the 81st minute. Four minutes later, David Zdrilic made it 8-0 after being teed up by Sterjovski. An Ahmad Elrich pass enabled Scott Chipperfield to score the 9th just before the full time whistle. It was a far greater margin of victory than I had anticipated.

        The final match of Day 2 was an ill-tempered, error-ridden affair between Fiji and Vanuatu.

        Vanuatu had the first chance in the 2nd minute - a super volley by Richard Iwai forcing a good save by Fiji 'keeper Laisienia Tuba. Unfortunately, this didn't set the tone for the rest of the match. Fiji controlled possession for most of the first half but were disjointed and lacking in creativity.

        In the 16th minute, Fiji's Laisiasa Gataurua forced a save out of Vanuatu 'keeper David Chilia after a fine run by Seveci Rokotakala and, after Vanuatu failed to clear a free kick in the 29th minute, Thomas Vulivuli missed from close range.

        Slowly, Fijian striker Veresa Toma was starting to have an influence with his strong physical presence challenging the Vanuatu defence. In the 36th minute, Toma forced Chilia into another save after a fine run.

        The last effort of the first half was a fine long range shot by Vanuatu's Moise Poida which Tuba tipped over the crossbar.

        Before the half concluded, Fiji coach Tony Buesnel, who tends to yell at his players like they're school children, attempted to substitute defender Viliame Toma for disciplinary reasons. As I was sitting just a few metres behind Buesnel, I can't begin to explain how hilarious the exchange between him and the fourth official (Italy's Stefano Farina) was. Buesnel yelled that he was going to get Toma off before he (Toma) committed any more fouls; Farina (having just shown the board which confirmed there would only be one minute of added time) told him that the referee was about to blow for half time; Buesnel said he wanted Toma off now anyway and quickly asked one of his substitutes what his number was. But by the time he'd got the answer and given the sub's number to Farina, the referee had indeed called a halt to proceedings. Needless to say, Viliame Toma did not reappear in the second half.

        Speaking of coaches, Vanuatu coach, Juan Carlos Buzzeti again brought young Jean Emmanuel Maleb on in the second half. Thus far, Buzzeti's tactics have been overly defensive. He has some excellent players and they're disciplined - so disciplined that they execute his negative game plan perfectly. The amount of times a Vanuatu player got forward, only to find that he had no support (and/or no target to aim at) had me pulling my hair out.

        The first real goalmouth action of the second half came in the 58th minute when Fiji's Seveci Rokotakala forced a save out of David Chilia. Fijian attacks continually broke down because of both poor decision making by Fiji players and excellent defending from Vanuatu.

        In the 70th minute Moise Poida had another (admittedly tame) shot for Vanuatu but it was, at least, part of a rare attacking spell in an unambitious performance. Maleb shot wide two minutes later.

        The deadlock was finally broken by the Fijians in the 74th minute. David Chilia fluffed a clearance which went straight to Veresa Toma on the edge of the box and, though his shot was rather miskicked, Toma scored. It was an unfortunate blunder by Vanuatu's captain who had been flawless until then (shades of the incident which saw New Zealand score its second goal against the Solomon Islands). In truth, Fiji probably weren't going to score any other way.

        Vanuatu suddenly found some attacking ambition but the best chance of another goal fell to Fiji with Rokotakala shooting wide in injury time.

        So the Fijians found themselves in 2nd place (behind Australia) after Day 2. But they'd been rather unimpressive.

        Day 3 produced the upset of the week and, arguably, the greatest shock in Oceania history. You would have seen the score up the top: New Zealand 2 Vanuatu 4. No, it's not a misprint.

        Vanuatu: the team that couldn't score against Fiji and Solomon Islands; the team that I thought was too negative; the impoverished team with only one pair of soccer boots per player. Unbelievable.

        It's a shame that such a tiny crowd witnessed this small piece of World Cup history - glory for a genuine underdog and a black night for the All Whites.

        New Zealand is in real trouble. Take nothing away from Vanuatu but, as we've seen, it could easily have been the Solomons that stunned the Kiwis. Australia rolls mercilessly on to qualification for the next stage but second place is wide open now.

        Things could have been different. After just 14 seconds, Kiwi midfielder Leo Bertos forced a smart save from Vanuatu's goalkeeper David Chilia. Ivan Vicelich hit the crossbar with a 5th minute header and Aaran Lines missed with a free kick from a dangerous position in the 10th minute. In the 12th minute, Brent Fisher headed straight at Chilia and, five minutes later, the Vanuatu custodian was also forced to save a strong shot by the impressive Lines. In the 18th minute, Rupesh Puna made a fine run for the All Whites but his eventual shot was tame and wide. It seemed a question of when the Kiwis would score, not if.

        After a furious opening 20 minutes, the match settled with New Zealand dominating possession but failing to create openings. It took until the 32nd minute for Seimata Chillia to register Vanuatu's first shot but he was a long way out - and missed by even further.

        However after a scramble in the penalty box in the 37th minute, Chillia did score and suddenly the tiny crowd was buzzing. Could Vanuatu win?

        Predictably New Zealand tried to hit straight back before half time but, despite a 41st minute shot from Duncan Oughton and Vanuatu defender Tom Manses nearly scoring an own goal with a deflection, the half time score remained 1-0 to Vanuatu.

        The All Whites showed greater urgency in the opening minutes of the second half and a 48th minute chance for Brent Fisher went over the bar. A minute later, Kiwi coach Mick Waitt gave his team an extra option up front by bringing veteran striker Vaughan Coveny on to the field.

        Coveny didn't take long to get into the action. In the 57th minute he tried to chip the advancing David Chilia from a difficult angle but only succeeded in hitting the outside of the net. A minute later he headed over the bar after a fine cross from left back Tony Lochhead.

        In the 61st minute, Coveny made it 1-1. Chilia, still floored after blocking a header, was finally beaten by the Kiwi striker's follow up shot.

        Well, was that the end of the rebellion? Would New Zealand now just cruise to victory after that early scare?

        Vanuatu midfielder Moise Poida didn't think so and he tried to restore Vanuatu's lead in the 63rd minute. Just seconds later, centre back Lexa Bule Bibi (don't you love some of these guys' names?) did make it 2-1, calmly slotting home after making a fine run forward.

        Further misery followed for New Zealand. In the 72nd minute, Jean Emmanuel Maleb - who started this match for Vanuatu - showed great composure to turn inside the Kiwi defence and shoot past All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston. 3-1 to the boys from Vanuatu!

        But the excitement was far from over. Just two minutes later, Shane Smeltz (on as a substitute for New Zealand) had a fierce shot saved by the magnificent David Chilia and, from the rebound, Duncan Oughton smashed the ball against the crossbar with another thunderous effort.

        In the 75th minute, Coveny gave the All Whites a lifeline when he scored from a Tony Lochhead cross. Now it was 3-2 and, with a quarter of an hour remaining, a draw - or a New Zealand win - wasn't out of the question.

        With Vanuatu coach Carlos Buzzeti hysterical on the sideline and the crowd willing the underdogs to hang on, the Kiwis pushed forward in search of an equaliser.

        In the 84th minute, Moise Poida tried to add a 4th for Vanuatu but his shot was well over the bar. Then in the 87th minute, Shane Smeltz had a chance to equalise with a header but it went over the crossbar as well. A minute later New Zealand won a corner - the All Whites were piling on the pressure now.

        But the corner was cleared and, with New Zealand pushing nearly everyone forward, Vanuatu counterattacked and midfielder Alphose Qorig made it 4-2. Game over.

        There was still time for Ryan Nelson (making his first appearance for the series after injury ruled him out of New Zealand's first two matches) and Raffaele De Gregorio to try their luck. But there would be no more goals and, after the full time whistle, Vanuatu's ecstatic players received a standing ovation.

        I have a media pass for this tournament (well done Australian Soccer Association for recognising Planet World Cup!) and I have been able to attend post-match media conferences. Needless to say, New Zealand coach Mick Waitt was, in his own words, "absolutely gutted" after the match and he conceded that the race for 2nd place (behind Australia) was now wide open. However, he was very generous in his praise of the Vanuatu team and its coach, Carlos Buzzeti.

        I told Buzzeti that I felt Jean Maleb gave his team an extra edge up forward and asked if he (Buzzeti) thought he hadn't used Maleb enough so far. Buzzeti said that Maleb was only 17 and still needed to learn many things. As it was, injuries had forced his hand with many selections (including Maleb's).

        Buzzeti is clearly unhappy with the schedule of matches - Vanuatu and co have to play 5 matches in 9 days and that's with just over a week's rest after the Stage 1 qualifiers. He's right to be annoyed but more on that subject later.

    The first match of the day was between Australia and Fiji.

        This was a potential curve ball for the Socceroos. It is their only match this week at the tiny Marden ground - the secondary venue in use for this week's action - and the pitch would be wet and slippery as rain had fallen for most of the day. And, of course, Fiji has caused the Aussies a few problems in the past.

        However, Australia was on the board fairly quickly. A Brett Emerton free kick went straight to Fiji goalkeeper Laisienia Tuba but he dropped the ball and Aussie defender Adrian Madaschi poked home from less than a metre out. 1-0 in the 6th minute.

        In the 8th minute, Tuba redeemed himself with an excellent save from a Scott Chipperfield header and, a minute later, Max Vieri headed a Jade North cross over the bar. In the 13th minute, a Tim Cahill header from a Vince Grella cross went straight to Tuba. It looked like a rout was on the cards.

        But Fiji rocked Australia with a goal from its first attack. After a Grella shot was blocked, a counterattack saw Laisiasa Gataurua beat Australian defender Patrick Kisnorbo and shoot past goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac. It was the first goal conceded by Australia in the tournament.

        To their credit, the Socceroos didn't panic. Although Fiji had a reasonable spell, in the 26th minute, Max Vieri nearly restored Australia's lead - denied by another Tuba save. Grella (31st minute) and Brett Emerton (33rd) then tried their luck and a fine build up gave Vieri another opportunity in the 37th minute but he headed straight to Fiji's custodian.

        In the 39th minute, Millwall midfielder Tim Cahill made it 2-1 to Australia when he headed a Chipperfield free kick home. Tuba went down in the Fiji goal and left the field wearing a brace on his neck - it's unclear whether he collided with Cahill or the goalpost but, either way, he needed to be substituted immediately and Simione Tamanisau replaced him.

        Australia made the match safe early in the second half. In the 50th minute, Madaschi scored with a header from an Alex Brosque corner (Brosque had come on for the start of the second half). Just a minute earlier, Tamanisau had saved another Madaschi header.

        In the 59th minute, Laisiasa Gataurua (who I think visits the same hairdresser that was made famous by Carlos Valderrama) went from hero to villain when he was sent off for retaliation after a Tim Cahill foul. With half an hour remaining, Fiji was two goals - and one man - down.

        Australia made it 4-1 in the 66th minute and it was a 4th goal from a set piece: an Ahmad Elrich free kick and a Cahill header. Alex Brosque tried to get into the act with a 72nd minute header but it went straight to the 'keeper.

        Tim Cahill had a shot saved in the 73rd minute but, two minutes later, he got a deserved hat trick with another header from an Elrich cross. (Finally an Australian goal in open play!)

        From there, Australia was happy to play a bit of keep ball. A Jade North header and a shot from the industrious Vince Grella were the only chances until the 89th minute when Elrich scored with a long-range shot to make the final score: Australia 6 Fiji 1.

        The day's other match was between Tahiti and those wonderful Solomon Islanders.

        With only one goal to show for all their delightful play in the first two matches, would the Solomons finally find the back of the net with some regularity? Yes.

        The Solomons were into their stride early with that man, Batram Suri, putting a 3rd minute effort over the crossbar. Then in the 8th minute, Alick Maemae shot wide and, almost immediately after that, a Maemae centre found Commins Menapi but striker Menapi just failed to make enough connection with the ball.

        In the 9th minute, the opening goal came when a cross by Stanley Waita was beautifully headed by Henry Fa'arodo.

        Tahiti almost equalised in the 11th minute. The Solomon Islands defence uncharacteristically missed a cross and Hiro Labaste forced a great save out of goalkeeper Felix Ray Jnr (who - despite his name - does not have his own pop group).

        In the 14th minute, a stunning shot by Commins Menapi made it 2-0 to the Solomons. From a near-impossible angle, it seemed his only option was to pull the ball back, but he shot instead, and Tahiti goalkeeper Stanley Tien Wah did not move as the ball flew past him and into the net. Five minutes later, Waita was just wide with another good shot.

        Tahiti had a reasonable spell for the next ten minutes and it's just as well - otherwise the Solomons might have really embarrassed them. Eventually there would be more chances and in the 31st minute, Solomons full back Leslie Leo shot over the bar. Another good shot from Menapi was just wide a minute later. The siege was on again.

        Maemae made another attempt on goal in the 34th minute and more fine build up play saw Menapi and Waita also shooting again. Batram Suri then made it 3-0 in the 41st minute after a masterful through ball by Fa'arodo.

        In first half injury time, Suri was just wide with an excellent free kick. Just a minute before that, Taufa Neuffer had a rare chance for Tahiti but missed his header. Still, Tahiti might have gone into the half time break more than 3 goals down.

        The entertainment continued in the second half. But although Menapi had another early shot for the Solomons, the Tahitians were now starting to play some of their best football.

        A strong 53rd minute header by Felix Tagawa forced a save out of Ray Jnr and, a minute later, Billy Mataitai hit the underside of the crossbar. Unfortunately the ball bounced the wrong side of the goal line and Tahiti still hadn't troubled the scorers.

        Henry Fa'arodo was put through for a one-on-one with Tahiti's keeper in the 58th minute but hit his shot straight at Tien Wah. Two minutes later, Hiro Labaste couldn't convert a great cross at the other end. In the 62nd minute, Fa'arodo shot wide after a Solomons corner but from that point, it would be the Tahitians who showed more ambition.

        In the 65th minute, Tahiti substitute Axel Temataua also drove a shot wide after a corner and, in the 74th minute, Tagawa headed wide. Though they did better up forward tonight, the Solomons probably didn't defend as well - George Suri was missed in the heart of their back four.

        In the 77th minute, the lively Temataua tried an audacious long-range chip but the all-singing, all-dancing, Felix Ray Jnr was alive to it. The Solomons went straight down the other end and a Menapi shot from inside the box forced a smart save out of Tien Wah.

        Menapi got his second, and the Solomons' 4th, in the 79th minute when he accepted another great through ball by Fa'arodo and rounded the goalkeeper.

        Tahiti again tried to hit back. A powerful Samuel Garcia free kick was just wide in the 83rd minute and midfielder Iotua Kautai found himself in a great position in the 86th minute but shot poorly.

        Menapi had a chance for a hat trick in the 89th minute but he headed Henry Fa'arodo's free kick over the bar. The final score was 4-0.

        The Solomons are now second in the Oceania standings with 6 points. They haven't played Australia yet but, if they defeat Fiji on Friday, the New Zealanders will be forced to beat both Tahiti and Fiji to have any hope of qualifying for the next stage - and staying in the World Cup. Might the seemingly inevitable Australia and New Zealand juggernaut be stopped? I don't think there has ever been a better chance as the All Whites are clearly struggling.

        In theory, Fiji and Vanuatu are still alive as well. But, despite the incredible win over New Zealand, Vanuatu is poorly placed with just 3 points and a match against Australia to come. Fiji just hasn't impressed at all and, at the risk of seeming biased, I hope the Fijians don't deny the Solomons victory when the two countries meet on Friday. Anyone who has seen the action in Adelaide this week would surely agree that the Solomons are an absolute joy to watch. Who (outside New Zealand) wouldn't want them to have a real shot at reaching the next phase of the Oceania qualifiers?


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