New Zealand and Solomon Islands got their OFC Nations Cup campaigns off to the perfect start, beating Fiji 3-1 and Vanuatu 1-0 as the competition kicked off in Papua New Guinea.
The All Whites impressed from the outset against one of the Nations Cup’s other pre-tournament favourites. They took just 16 minutes to get off the mark as Themi Tzimopoulos prodded home following Simione Tamanisau’s superb save from a Chris Wood volley. Fiji looked a threat going forward, primarily through talisman Roy Krishna, though it was Avinesh Suwamy who first tested Stefan Marinovic with a thunderous free-kick from 40 yards.
However, Frank Farina’s Fijians were at times their own worst enemies in Port Moresby, which was all too evident in the second goal. A mix-up in defence saw a cross from the right cause chaos, before an eventual clearance cannoned off the chest of Rory Fallon and into the bottom corner.
Anthony Hudson’s side looked to be cruising into the break, but they were brought back to earth after Sam Brotherton hauled down Setaraki Hughes in the area. Krishna duly dispatched the penalty to halve the deficit.
However, the Wellington Phoenix forward went from hero to villain ten minutes into the second half as an outstretched arm saw him concede a spot-kick of his own. Wood duly picked out the same corner Krishna had found minutes earlier to kill off the fight back.
The clash between Vanuatu and Solomon Islands proved to be a much more even affair, with the former looking the brighter early on. Kensi Tangis got pulses racing with a sweetly-hit effort from 30 yards, before Bill Nichols forced a reflex stop from Phillip Mango.
That set Solomon Islands up to hit back and take the lead stylishly. Benjamin Totori’s quick feet and slipped through ball found Jerry Donga, who duly dinked over the advancing Seiloni Iaruel. They remained in the ascendancy until the pendulum swung in the second half, with Vanuatu taking control.
However, clear chances were at a premium, with set pieces providing their best opportunities. Captain Fenedy Masauvakalo whipping a free-kick just wide of the top corner and Daniel Natou hitting the bar were the closest they came.