Two years ago Solomon Islands suffered a narrow shock defeat at the hands of Tahiti as the Tiki Toa won their way to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the first time. However, determined to prove that result was an aberration, the Solomons put in two resolute and focused performances to regain their title and be crowned Oceania beach kings for the fourth time in five attempts on Monday.
The three-nation, three-day tournament may have meant the feat was a relatively modest achievement, but the comprehensive nature of the scorelines against Vanuatu and host nation New Caledonia will leave the Bilikiki emboldened for their fast-looming appearance on the world stage. The proximity of the qualifiers to the tournament proper – the 16-nation event commences just 14 days after qualification – will leave the Solomons with a solid foundation as they prepare to rub shoulders alongside the world’s best sand-based football practitioners.
The Solomons may have entered the University of New Caledonia-based tournament as favourites but the abbreviated format meant there was little margin for error. Potentially stiff opposition loomed in the shape of three-time runners-up Vanuatu, and a well-drilled New Caledonia side coached by a legendary former member of Tahiti’s outdoor national team: Felix Tagawa.
Solomon Islands opened with an 8-3 win over Vanuatu, though they were held to a 1-1 scoreline at the end of the opening period. The second matchday saw New Caledonia edge Vanuatu with a stunning 7-6 comeback victory to set up a winner-takes-all finale. Ultimately the Melanesians triumphed with a categorical 6-0 winning margin although, in a similar scenario to their opening match, it took a flurry of late goals to prove their dominance.
Solomon Islands have a proud history at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, having claimed a number of impressive scalps during their four previous visits to the event. And the Class of 2013 showed over the weekend their have the potential to match the achievements of their predecessors later this month in French Polynesia. Their 14 goals were spread across five different goalscorers with national team Futsal goalkeeper Anthony Talo a notable, and indeed, quirky entrant on the scoresheet. Joe Luwi’s five goals earned him the Golden Boot and Samson Takayama took home the Golden Ball as the best player at the tournament.
Vastly experienced coach Gideon Omokirio – a veteran of four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups and just as many FIFA World Cup™ campaigns – is now set for his coaching debut on the world stage. Little wonder he described himself as “very, very, very happy,” after qualification had been assured.
The fact that Tahiti are the host nation means this was a unique opportunity to feature at the first FIFA tournament to be staged in a Pacific Islands nation. “We really wanted to go to this World Cup because it’s in our region, we know Tahiti, we know the weather,” said Omokirio. “So we are ready to progress to the next stage.”
Solomon Islands will feature in Group B at Tahiti 2013 alongside Netherlands, El Salvador and South American champions Argentina.