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OCEANIA





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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, Day 4 - Resurgent All Whites still in danger



    by Paul Marcuccitti


    New Zealand 10 Tahiti 0 (HT 5-0)
    Fiji 1 Solomon Islands 2 (HT 1-1)
    Vanuatu 0 Australia 3 (HT 0-1)


        New Zealand has a beautiful national anthem – one of my favourites. It’s called “God Defend New Zealand”.

        In an irony that few would have predicted, it’ll be the Socceroos that will have to defend New Zealand when Stage 2 of the Oceania World Cup qualifiers concludes on Sunday. Because two things need to happen for the Kiwis to survive: they have to defeat Fiji and the Socceroos have to defeat the Solomon Islands.

        It’s an irony because Australia and New Zealand have a sporting rivalry that people in other parts of the world might struggle to understand. We're awfully lonely in this little corner of the planet and sometimes it seems that barely a week goes by without Australia v New Zealand. It might be rugby, or cricket, or soccer, or netball, or boomerang throwing. You name it. At some age level, in some sport, New Zealand is probably playing Australia somewhere.

        We just played a soccer international against each other last Saturday. If (as would have been expected prior to this week) New Zealand makes it into 2nd place of the Stage 2 standings, we’ll play each other twice more in September (for the Oceania Nations Cup) and twice more next year (in more World Cup qualifiers).

        You might already be asking the question: would the Socceroos be tempted to lie down against the Solomons and dump New Zealand from both competitions?

        I doubt it. Despite the rivalry, there are three reasons why Australia will play to win against the Solomons.

        Firstly, it’s “safe”. Playing the All Whites in Auckland certainly isn’t easy but it is familiar territory. Tropical encounters in Honiara in front of more than 20,000 passionate Solomon Islanders might be a little more daunting.

        Secondly, the Australian Soccer Association has enough trouble marketing matches against New Zealand. Promoting two series against the Solomon Islands will be its worst nightmare. I have genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the way the Solomons have played this week … but I’m not the market.

        Finally, if the Australians roll over (in order to eliminate the Kiwis) or even look like they’re rolling over, it will be a scandal, won’t it? And I suppose the players have pride as well. So don’t bet on a lame Socceroo performance.

        Still, New Zealand has to beat Fiji as well and that’s not a foregone conclusion. But the Kiwis will have enjoyed reaching double figures against hapless Tahiti in Day 4’s first match.

        The All Whites didn’t come out steaming. They were quite composed and methodical. It took until the 6th minute for Ryan Nelsen to head New Zealand’s first chance over the bar after an Aaran Lines corner. A minute later, Nelsen put Lines through on the left and some good work from Lines resulted in a cross which Vaughan Coveny headed home. 1-0 to the All Whites.

        [Incidentally, my apologies for spelling the New Zealand captain’s name incorrectly in earlier articles. It’s “Nelsen”, not “Nelson”.]

        In the 10th minute, Nelsen and Lines combined again in a virtually identical move to the one that produced the opening goal but this time Brent Fisher was on the end of it and he couldn’t quite make a good connection with the ball. A minute later, Lines teed up Coveny again but the striker’s effort went straight to the Tahitian goalkeeper, Xavier Samin (who nearly spilled the ball).

        The Aaran Lines show continued in the 12th minute when he created another opportunity for Nelsen, which was saved. The Tahitians were hardly putting a foot on the ball and in the 16th minute a Raffaele De Gregorio shot went straight to Samin who by now must have known he’d be in for a busy afternoon.

        The All Whites went 2-0 up in the 17th minute. Aaran Lines (who else?) crossed again, Coveny won the header in the penalty area and it enabled Brent Fisher to head into the net. Tahiti’s defence was marking poorly as too often New Zealand players were allowed free headers in the penalty box.

        In the 23rd minute, it was 3-0. Yet again Lines created the opportunity by crossing from the left for a Fisher header. Unfortunately Lines would soon be substituted due to injury but it wouldn’t take long for the rout to continue. Nelsen, in midfield today (he’d played in defence against Vanuatu), was also influential.

        Vaughan Coveny had another effort in the 24th minute. In the 29th minute, Tahiti had its first shot through Larry Marmouyet but it was well wide.

        In the 33rd minute, Kiwi full back Tony Lochhead shot just over the bar and four minutes later, Coveny hit the inside of the post after Duncan Oughton crossed from the right. Within seconds, Coveny centred the ball for De Gregorio but his shot was just wide.

        New Zealand made it 4-0 in the 39th minute after Ryan Nelsen made a great run and crossed for Coveny who just needed to tap in. Coveny got his hat trick in first half injury time when he got the last successful touch after both teams played a bit of head tennis in the penalty box. A few minutes earlier Tahiti captain Samuel Garcia had tried his luck with a long range shot which just cleared the crossbar. Unfortunately his team had few bright moments in the first half and could have been more than 5 down with 45 minutes to go.

        There would be no let up in the second half. A good Coveny shot was saved by Samin in the 48th minute and, from the resulting corner, Nelsen just missed with a stunning volley. A 50th minute run and shot by Lochhead forced another save from Samin and, a minute later, a De Gregorio shot went well over the bar.

        Tahiti then had a reasonable few minutes. Gabriel Wajoka just missed with a fine 53rd minute shot and Felix Tagawa forced saves from underemployed Kiwi ‘goalkeeper Mark Paston in the 55th and 59th minutes. At the other end, Ryan Nelson shot over the bar in the 57th minute after Simon Elliott (on as a substitute) crossed.

        Just when it seemed that there wouldn’t be another avalanche of goals, Brent Fisher made it 6-0 to New Zealand in the 64th minute. Samin nearly saved but the ball just crossed the line.

        In the 66th minute, striker Neil Jones replaced Vaughan Coveny in the New Zealand attack. Within a minute, Jones headed an Elliott corner over the bar and in the 70th minute, Jones headed straight to Samin. The substitute had a third chance a minute later as Brent Fisher had an effort blocked after a one-on-one with Samin and Tahiti’s custodian also saved Jones’ follow up.

        The Kiwis were stepping things up again. A Leo Bertos shot was well saved in the 74th minute but, within a minute, Jones finally got onto the scoresheet and made it 7-0.

        In the 76th minute it was 8-0 with Duncan Oughton scoring after the Tahiti defence carelessly lost possession of the ball. The influential Ryan Nelsen then had efforts blocked in the 77th and 78th minutes and another shot from Jones was saved in the 80th minute.

        Farahia Teuira had Tahiti’s best chance in the 82nd minute when he hit a free kick against the underside of the bar. Not for the first time this week, the ball bounced the wrong side of the goal line for the Tahitians.

        Ryan Nelsen got a thoroughly deserved goal in the 84th minute when he headed a corner into the net to make it 9-0 and, in the 88th minute, it was 10 when Neil Jones, with his back to goal, deflected a Simon Elliott drive past Samin.

        There was still time for De Gregorio to head a Fisher cross wide and for Bertos to have a shot saved. Just before full time, Tagawa tried again at the other end but his shot was deflected over the crossbar.

        All Whites’ coach Mick Waitt was clearly happier at the post-match media conference. But he did say that you couldn’t write the Solomon Islands off against Australia and it would be better (for New Zealand) if Fiji won against the Solomons. I asked Waitt what his criteria were for deciding whether to play Ryan Nelsen in defence or midfield – I thought the Kiwi captain was magnificent in midfield against Tahiti and that the team might have been better off with him in the middle against Vanuatu. Waitt said that it depends on who the opposition is and who is up front (for the opposition). He said it’s a nice option to have and that Nelsen “adds fluency”. Waitt also described the schedule of matches as being “crazy”.

        Tahiti is still without a goal after 4 matches in Adelaide. New Zealand, now 3rd in the Stage 2 standings, is still alive.

        But Mick Waitt wouldn’t get his wish in the Fiji v Solomon Islands match as the mighty Solomons recorded their third victory to put themselves within one point of qualification for the next phase.

        You might have gathered from earlier updates that I’ve been rather unimpressed by Fiji this week whereas I’ve enjoyed the Solomons so much that I’ve nearly been turning up to matches wearing their blue, green and yellow! (That’s another thing: of the six teams in this contest, the Solomons easily have the best colours/shirts.) However, Fiji was the better team for much of this encounter – a fact conceded after the match by the Solomons’ coach Allan Gillet.

        On a cold Adelaide night, both teams looked a bit flat. Fatigue is setting in due to the hectic schedule and they spent most of the opening ten minutes just testing each other out. Fiji, perhaps showing respect for the Solomons’ attack, played the first half in a 5-3-2 formation.

        Batram Suri (the South Pacific Pelé) had the first shot for the Solomons in the 9th minute but, from a tight angle, it went straight to Fiji ‘keeper Laisienia Tuba. Two minutes later, Esala Masi had the first chance at the other end but his shot was wide.

        In the 13th minute, Alick Maemae was unable to shoot truly after a superb through ball by Suri but, just three minutes later, more exceptional build-up play enabled midfielder Paul Kakai Jnr to follow up a blocked shot by Maemae and the Solomons took the lead.

        In the 21st minute, however, giant Fiji striker Veresa Toma equalised for Fiji after running on to a fine through ball by Salesh Kumar. Full back Mahlon Houkarawa tried to restore the Solomons’ lead in the 23rd minute but his excellent shot was well saved and Suri was unable to follow it up.

        There were few first half chances after Houkarawa’s effort but the teams’ play was still attractive and entertaining. A 32nd minute Batram Suri shot was blocked; at the other end Veresa Toma shot well over the bar in the 43rd minute; and Fiji midfielder Emosi Baleinuku also shot over in first half injury time.

        The second half saw Fiji do much more of the attacking but without creating genuine chances. Thomas Vulivuli had a shot blocked in the 48th minute and Fiji continued to press with the Solomons content to play on the break.

        Suri, off balance, shot wide in the 52nd minute after Commins Menapi put him through and, three minutes later, a Suri interception created an opening but he couldn’t connect with his shot. In the 56th minute, a Menapi shot was well saved by Tuba and, a few minutes later, Jack Samani, on as a substitute, shot wide after Tuba failed to hold a cross.

        After that little flurry of chances for Solomon Islands, Fiji pushed forward again but, with George Suri restored to the Solomons’ defence, the Fijians struggled to create genuine chances. Salesh Kumar tried his luck from distance in the 69th minute but he missed by a long way. Batram Suri then had a great shot saved at the other end.

        From the resulting corner, Houkarawa nearly scored the cheekiest goal of the tournament. With the ball coming in low towards the near post, Houkarawa, with his back to the goal, quite deliberately back heeled the ball and connected with it perfectly. Fortunately for the Fijians, they had a man standing inside the near post and Houkarawa’s goal bound “shot” was deflected away.

        In the 72nd minute, the match provided its biggest talking point. Veresa Toma, one-on-one with Felix Ray Jnr, looked to go around the Solomon Islands’ goalkeeper but went down in the penalty box. Was Toma fouled or did he dive? The media box was split. I felt the big striker dived and the referee (Vanuatu’s Harry Attison) did not award a penalty. But Attison didn’t give Toma a card for diving either and, as Toma had already been booked, it would have meant a sending off.

        Now the Solomons got back into the attacking groove. After some scrambling in the penalty box, Menapi headed over the bar in the 79th minute. A minute later, a deflected Menapi shot went straight to Laisienia Tuba.

        The Solomons scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute. A sensational free kick from Batram Suri hit the inside of the junction of crossbar and post and, from the rebound, Mahlon Houkarawa poked the ball home. It was a deserved goal for the Solomons’ left back as he’d shown great attacking initiative throughout the match. A deflated Fiji couldn’t create any more chances after that and the final score was: Fiji 1 Solomon Islands 2.

        Immediately after the match came the week’s most hilarious moment in the media box as we all crowded around a television replay of the Toma “penalty” incident. Obviously the replay was inconclusive because, as Toma hit the ground, half of us yelled out “dive” and the other half yelled out “penalty”.

        The Solomon Islands radio commentator was sitting next to me in the media box and it was terrific to see him talking to delighted coach Allan Gillet after the match. They ought to be dancing in the streets in Honiara.

        Gillet mentioned that playing Fiji was a big game for the Solomons, “like England versus Scotland”. He also admitted that he looked back on the New Zealand game with great regret as he thought the Solomons might be “fodder for Australia – but I don’t think we are for New Zealand”.

        When asked about the penalty that wasn’t, Fiji coach Tony Buesnel simply said that he wished Toma had stayed on his feet (whether there was contact or not). I mentioned to Buesnel that Toma spent much of the second half pulling close to the left touchline and asked if that was an instruction. Buesnel said he didn’t want Toma there and that he (Toma) “needs to bring more out of his game”.

        The Fiji coach also said that his team should have won the game for the amount of possession it had (and as mentioned earlier, Gillet was happy to concede this point).

        Knowing now that a Fiji win or draw against New Zealand on Sunday would put the Solomons into the next phase and eliminate the All Whites, Buesnel was inevitably asked if his team would be motivated against the Kiwis. He said that the team would do everything in its power to get something out of the game. It certainly promises to be an interesting encounter.

        The last match of the night saw Australia huff and puff without quite blowing Vanuatu’s house down.

        The Socceroos promised a rout in the opening quarter of an hour. Brett Emerton fired the first shot in the 5th minute. Three minutes later, Vanuatu ‘keeper, David Chilia saved a David Zdrillic shot after Stan Lazaridis centred the ball.

        In the 9th minute, a John Aloisi shot from a tight angle was also saved and, within seconds, a Josip Skoko shot was deflected for a corner. A minute after that, another Zdrillic shot forced another save by Chilia. Zdrillic then volleyed a Lazaridis cross over the bar and, in the 13th minute, the Aussie striker headed an Alex Brosque cross wide.

        The siege continued a minute later when John Aloisi should have scored but, again, Chilia saved. The Vanuatu custodian would be the undisputed man of the match after an unforgettable display.

        As the match settled after its frenetic opening, Jean “Victor” Maleb had Vanuatu’s first effort in the 21st minute but the young striker’s shot was wide.

        In the 23rd minute, Brett Emerton found himself unmarked in the box after being played in by Zdrillic but the Blackburn man missed by a long way. Was it going to be one of those nights? No. Aloisi made it 1-0 with a header after a penalty box scramble. He’d followed up after a Tony Vidmar header was saved by Chilia. Two minutes later, Brosque crossed again but Zdrillic couldn’t make enough connection with the ball.

        Vanuatu forward Lorry Thompsen made a 31st minute attempt at an equaliser but his shot went straight to Aussie 'keeper Zeljko Kalac.

        There would only be two more chances in the first half. A 43rd minute shot by Zdrillic hit John Aloisi and the ball deflected narrowly wide of the goal. A minute later, a poor goal kick fell to Zdrillic but his fine shot was well saved again.

        The second half was only two minutes old when Josip Skoko forced yet another good save out of the inspired Chilia. While Vanuatu rarely threatened, the Aussies really needed the insurance of a second goal.

        Aloisi tried again in the 54th minute but his header from a Lazaridis cross went straight to Chilia. In the 60th minute, Lazaridis, still (surprisingly) without a goal in his Socceroo career, hit the crossbar from a free kick.

        After a good spell from Vanuatu, Ahmad Elrich, on as a sub, rounded Chilia in the 70th minute but his shot was cleared off the line. Seconds later, Chilia (who the Aussies will probably have nightmares about) made a wonderful double save from Aloisi and Skoko. Things were getting very, very tense.

        The Socceroos couldn’t make it 2-0 until the 81st minute. Once again, it took a second effort to beat Chilia. Brett Emerton forced a fine save but was able to score with the rebound – the Aussie midfielder didn’t attempt to hide his relief.

        John Aloisi looked for another in the 83rd minute but his header, from a Lazaridis cross, went over the bar. A minute later, Aloisi did make it 3-0 when he converted a fine centre from Emerton.

        In the 87th minute, Chilia was injured when he collided with Aloisi. Sadly, the Vanuatu ‘keeper had to be carried off the field and he was given a standing ovation by the appreciative crowd. He has been the ‘keeper of the tournament.

        Vanuatu coach Carlos Buzzeti couldn’t bring a reserve ‘keeper on because he had already made three substitutions so Pita David Maki did the job for the last few minutes and Vanuatu played the match out with 10 men. Understandably, Maki was a little nervous but he did succeed in touching a fierce Brett Emerton shot onto the crossbar in injury time. The final score was 3-0 to the Aussies and they have now qualified for the next phase.

        After the match, Australian coach Frank Farina said he did not believe that the Socceroos had been guilty of over-finessing during the match (hmmm… not sure that I agree with him). He also said that Australia would be going in to win against the Solomons and he hoped the team wouldn’t lack motivation.

        So we go into the final day with the Solomon Islands in 2nd place, 3 points ahead of New Zealand. Can you believe it? Because of their superior goal difference, the All Whites will finish 2nd and qualify for the next stage if they beat Fiji, and the Solomon Islands lose to Australia. Otherwise, get set for a trip to Honiara folks!

        That might not be an ideal scenario for Australia (for the reasons I mentioned above) but surely it would be a real shot in the arm for the Oceania confederation.



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