Electrifying atmosphere greeted Melanesian rivals Vanuatu and Solomon Islands onto the pitch in the day’s second semi-final, and both sets of players responded to the cheers of their vocal and passionate supporters with a fast and furious opening.
Vanuatu shaded possession in the early stages with darting runs on the right by Bethuel Ollie, and threatening set-pieces deliveries from Ronaldo Wilkins.
However, the first real chance of the game fell to the Solomon Islands with Augustine Waita volleying over the crossbar from close range in front of goal.
Harold Nauania produced a fantastic save to deny Claude Aru one-on-one at the other end, before Frank Kabui tried his luck from distance with a well struck drive, only to watch his attempt narrowly clearing the crossbar as a result of a deflection from a Vanuatu defender.
Kabui kept pressing forward, and he was at hand to assist his side’s 37th minute opener with a short pass inside the box to set up Waita who calmly slotted past Daniel Alick giving Solomon Islands the lead going into the break.
Vanuatu’s task of finding an equaliser got much tougher in the 52nd minute following a straight red card to Tasso Jeffrey for a dangerous tackle on Patrick Taroga.
Using their numerical advantage, Darold Kakasi came close with a curling shot over the crossbar before Taroga smashed his shot against the post as the Solomon Islanders looked to put the result beyond doubt.
Despite playing with 10-men, Etienne Mermer’s troops kept knocking on the door, and Bong Kalo almost levelled the scores with a shot just inches wide of the post, before an attempt deep into injury time by Jason Thomas went agonisingly close to the target.
At the end however, Batram Suri’s men have managed to hold on to their slender lead and set up date with New Zealand in the title decider to the delight of their relieved coach.
“I’m so very happy with the result but in terms of the performance there is still a lot to do,” he said.
“Vanuatu are very good and they have a lot of good players and a very good coach with them too, most of their players have already experienced a (U-20) World Cup and they are confident too and we always have a good rivalry with them so I expected a tough contest like that," the Solomon Island coach explained.
Suri also admitted the red card dished out to Vanuatu did help his side’s cause.
“Yes it was crucial, but I thought despite the red card we had to play our own style, and they pushed us and it felt like we played against 11 players, but yes it was crucial for us,” he added.
Meanwhile, despite his side’s disappointing exit, Vanuatu coach Etienne Mermer heaped praise on his players’ fighting spirit.
“It’s hard to explain, we came into this match wanting to win it but we didn’t manage to do it, but it’s life we couldn’t come back,” he lamented.
But I want to congratulate the boys, they played really well, they played good football today, and we managed to play with ten men and still managed to have ball possession and managed to put the Solomons under pressure.
“We played well, we just couldn’t score and it’s really disappointing for us, but good luck to the Solomons team in their final match,” the Vanuatu coach added.
Source: OFC Media