Tahiti and New Caledonia continued their supremacy in Group A of the OFC Nations Cup yesterday in Solomon Islands with a pair of wins that served to secure their place in the semi-finals.Both sides had little trouble finding the net at Lawson Tama Stadium, New Caledonia's Les Cagous progressing from the pool stages in style by accounting for Samoa 9-0 while Tahiti swept aside Vanuatu 4-1.
The victories keep both sides' hopes of an historic Nations Cup title alive - neither of the French territories have lifted the trophy before - but just as significantly books them a passage to stage three of Oceania qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilT, a round-robin, home-and-away play-off series concluding in March 2013.
With an impressive win ratio of three from three, Tahiti top the group and will now go on to play the second-placed team from Group B in Friday's semi-finals while Les Cagous will meet the winner of Group B.
The identity of those sides will not be known until the end of the last day of pool action tomorrow but New Zealand have already qualified for the top four and will be joined by either hosts Solomon Islands or Fiji.
"We are very happy to have obtained our first objective, which was to go through to the next stage of World Cup qualifying," Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta said.
"But we are just as happy to have qualified for the semi-finals of this tournament. We would probably prefer to play Fiji because we know their style of football and the Solomon Islands would have the crowd behind them which would be difficult."
Despite winning their first two matches, there was a chance Tahiti would not be in the semi-final mix if they suffered a heavy defeat to Vanuatu - who needed to win by five or more goals - but that scenario looked unlikely from the 13th minute when Vanuatu goalkeeper Ernest Bong brought down Teaonui Tehau in the box and referee Peter O'Leary pointed to the spot.
Tahiti captain Nicolas Vallar slotted home the penalty - his second such goal of the tournament - and the Vanuatu cause was not helped a few minutes later as captain Jean Robert Yelou was forced off due to injury. Tahiti took even more control ten minutes before the break when Jonathan Tehau headed home a corner from brother Lorenzo and further goals to Alvin Tehau and Teaonui Tehau in the second half confirmed the win.
Vanuatu's response was supplied by Robert Tasso in injury time as Percy Avock's men failed in their quest to qualify for stage three. "Our preparation for the tournament was too short and we have a lot of young players who are still learning," Avock said. "We will come back much stronger in four years."
New Caledonia joined Tahiti in strolling through to the semi-finals thanks largely to a remarkable five-goal haul from striker Jacques Haeko while Roy Kayara, Iamel Kabeu, Judikael Ixoee and Kalaje Gnipate also got on the scoresheet in the rout against Samoa.
Les Cagous were without the suspended pair of Georges Gope-Fenepej and Jean Patrick Wakanumune and there were several other familiar names missing from the team list as coach Alain Moizan took the opportunity to shuffle his pack ahead of a likely semi-final showdown.
"This match allowed us to give some game time to players who haven't played a big role so far," Moizan said. "This is a long tournament so we need to have some turnover in the team. We are now through to the semi-finals and anything is possible in one game. We will make the most of the opportunity and do as well as we can." Samoa captain Andrew Setefano was disappointed to post another loss but says his side's time in Honiara has not been without its benefits.
"The boys have done the best they can and have learned a lot," he said. "This has been a big opportunity for us to play teams of a higher standard. We need to improve on our finishing because we have the speed and the athleticism but have trouble scoring."
Tahiti and New Caledonia's respective semi-final opponents will be revealed tomorrow when Papua New Guinea take on Fiji at 12pm local time and New Zealand face Solomon Islands at 3pm local time.