Against all expectations, the Solomon Islands were 4-1 down shortly after the halftime interval but produced some typical Kurukuru flair in the second spell to dash Tahiti’s hopes and book themselves a ticket to Thailand. There was also plenty of drama in the day’s other game, New Zealand’s Futsal Whites earning bronze after winning a thrilling 3rd/4th play-off with Vanuatu on a penalty shoot-out after the scores were locked at 1-1.
But the day belonged to the Kurukuru and captain Elliot Ragomo was overcome with emotion at the final whistle.
“It feels amazing, this is our dream,” he said. “We have worked hard for this and we really deserve it. We will make both the Solomon Islands and Oceania proud. Last time, we didn’t do very well but I promise Oceania that we will fight for every single minute at this World Cup. People need to know that futsal is growing in the Pacific and the world should be aware of the Pacific countries.”
The Solomon Islands had won the last three Oceania championships in a row and were heavy favourites going into this winner-takes-all clash, despite only managing to beat Tahiti 1-0 when the sides met during the group stages. But the Tahitians, who have been one of the tournament’s most well-organised teams under the expert tutorship of coach Heitapu Hunter, had clearly not read the script written by the Kurukuru’s fanatical fans.
As was the case in that earlier Group B match, Tahiti set themselves up superbly as a defensive unit and the Solomon Islands’ much-vaunted attack struggled to break through the wall of white shirts they found in front of them. But Hunter’s side was not content to sit back and let their opponents dictate the play, as the Kurukuru found out the hard way in the fifth minute when Gaby Kavera squeezed the ball past goalkeeper David Lafai to give the Tahitians a shock lead.
The strike stunned most of the 3000 fans packed into Vodafone Arena but the rowdy Kurukuru faithful would not be silenced for long and had something to cheer when skipper Ragomo drew his side level in the 10th minute.
It seemed then as if normal order had been resumed and the Solomons would go on to characteristically take the Tahiti defence apart. But that rearguard held firm and, remarkably, Tahiti led 3-1 at the break thanks to goals from Areti Williams and Teva Durot.
It was obvious by this stage that Kurukuru coach Dickson Kadau and his players would not be in for a straightforward path to the World Cup and that was underlined three minutes after the restart when Mana Faarahia made it 4-1.
Tahiti appeared to now have one foot on the plane to Thailand but the youthful Solomon side was not about to let their opponents entertain thoughts of packing their bags. It was their two talismen, Ragomo and former player of the tournament Jack Wetney, who the Kurukuru turned to for inspiration and the duo did not disappoint.
Wetney struck twice in quick succession, in the 24th and 26th minutes, to turn the match on its head and the scores were level a minute later when Ragomo found the net to thunderous applause.
It got even louder just seconds later when Ragomo put his side ahead for the first time in the match. Having worked so hard to get themselves back into the contest, the Kurukuru were unlikely to let the advantage slip and that lead was instead extended in the 38th minute.
Again it was Ragomo who produced the goods just when his team needed him to score his fourth goal of the evening and 19th of the tournament.
Scoring twice in the last two minutes was a feat that proved beyond Tahiti as the Kurukuru held on to deservedly earn Oceania’s sole spot at the FIFA Futsal World Cup.
“We lost concentration in the first half and didn’t expect they would do such quick counter-attacks,” Ragomo said. “But we knew what we were going to do in the second half and used our speed and power to get back into the game. Once we scored a couple of goals, we knew we would go on to win.”
Tahiti coach Hunter was frustrated to have lost the match from such a promising position but still had plenty of praise for his players.
“If you are winning 4-1 you need to hold onto that lead and we weren’t able to do so,” he said. “That little bit of experience cost us in the end but this has been an amazing tournament for my boys and I’m proud of what they’ve done.”
Earlier in the day, goals to New Zealand’s Micky Malivuk and Vanuatu’s Lui Sifas resulted in a 1-1 draw in the 3rd/4th play-off as the Futsal Whites were taken to their second penalty shoot-out in two days. Understudy goalkeeper David Plowright emerged as the unlikely hero, stepping out of the shadows to score New Zealand’s last penalty himself and then pulling off a save from opposing custodian Chickau Mansale’s spot kick to give his country a 5-4 win.
And there was some consolation for Tahiti when goalkeeper Atanui Tetihia, who produced a brilliant display in the final to deny the champions on numerous occasions, was presented with the Golden Gloves for the second year running as the tournament’s best custodian while Ragomo took home both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball, an award given to the player deemed best on show throughout the week.
New Zealand – Vanuatu Match Summary click here (PDF)
Tahiti – Solomon Islands Match Summary click here (PDF)
Competition Summary click here (PDF)