Solomon Islands have retained their Oceania crown and secured their place in next year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania by overcoming a brave and determined New Zealand outfit on penalties following a thrilling OFC Futsal Nations Cup final in New Caledonia.
Solomon Islands and New Zealand have played out the best and most exciting Futsal games ever in Oceania’s history in Saturday night’s Futsal Nations Cup title decider at Paita’s Arena du Sud.
Looking to secure their berth in their first ever World Cup, the Futsal Whites took an early lead with captain Micky Malivuk showing brilliant awareness to send a looping shot from deep inside his own half over Kurukuru keeper Anthony Talo who was left stranded off his line.
Kiwi keeper Elias Billeh produced two crucial saves to deny Jeffrey Bule and George Stevenson while Alvin Hou blasted two of his attempts over the crossbar as the defending champions set up camp inside their opponents’ half, peppering the New Zealand goal in their search for an equaliser.
Following the Kurukuru onslaught, Oban Hawkins offered some relief to his defence by forcing a couple of saves from Talo on the counter, helping New Zealand to hold onto their narrow advantage at the end of a tense first period.
Solomon Islands did find a way through after the restart with James Egeta smashing home after being set-up by skipper Elliott Ragomo’s free-kick.
Billeh came to the Futsal Whites’ rescue with a great reflex save on his line to prevent a deflection from Luc Saker for an own goal.
New Zealand restored their lead against the run of play courtesy of Malivuk’s sensational strike rocketing into the top left corner.
However the reigning champions weren’t done yet with Hou restoring parity with a perfectly placed low drive before Jordi Ditfort grabbed one at the other end to keep the Futsal Whites nose in front.
Egeta crashed his attempt against the post as the Kurukuru went close to reply almost instantly.
Desperately searching for an equaliser coach Vinicius Laite opted to use the powerplay with a flying keeper but his plan backfired with Josh Margetts finding the empty net from inside his own half.
But the drama didn’t end there, and with less than 2 minutes on the clock Hou pulled a goal back for the Solomon Islands to set up a grandstand finish.
And with just 20 seconds to go the Solomon Islanders showed their class with Arnold Maeluma netting to send the decider into extra time.
Bule drove home to put Kurukuru in the driving seat following the restart before Stephen Ashby-Peckham gave a lifeline to the Kiwis with a composed finish at the other end.
Manickum forced a good save from Talo in the second period of extra time, and with penalties beckoning it was New Zealand’s turn risking the powerplay but to no avail.
Despite some frantic end-to-end action in the final minute the scores remained deadlocked sending the title decider into a shoot-out.
With three world cups behind them the experience of the Solomon Islands came to the fore when it mattered the most with both skipper Ragomo and Bule easily converting from the spot while Ashby-Peckham and Lucas Silva succumbing to the pressure.
Following his side’s dramatic win, the Kurukuru coach couldn’t hide his emotions.
“At the moment I have no words to describe what I’m feeling,” Laite said.
“I want to congratulate Marvin (Eakins) the New Zealand coach, what he is doing with his team is phenomenal. Everybody thought it was going to be an easy game and you saw how much of a battle that was.
“New Zealand will go to the next world cup if he keeps doing what he is doing and FIFA should start looking at OFC and maybe send two teams for the World Cup from here because the level and quality displayed here today was amazing. I’m happy for my team and very sad for New Zealand,” the Kurukuru coach added.
Meanwhile devastated Futsal Whites coach Marvin Eakins remained gracious in defeat.
“It’s been quite a journey the last couple of years, the guys put in so much hard work, put it out on the court couldn’t ask any more from them in that game,” he said.
“It was a great final, we will look back at it maybe we could have done this or that but at the end of the day sometimes it can be out of your hands and we did what we could, I’m glad that the Solomons are going, they are a great team and I know they will represent us well at the World Cup, added the New Zealand coach.