The net continued to bulge on a regular basis during day four of the OFC U-17 Championship at North Harbour Stadium. Before today’s action, 31 goals had already been scored and that figure has now risen to 43 after another afternoon full of goalmouth drama.
Tahiti got the ball rolling when they took the lead against Solomon Islands and converted that into a 2-1 victory before New Caledonia enjoyed an 8-1 romp over Cook Islands.
The first half of the opening game gave little indication of the goal-laden events that were to unfold later in the afternoon as the evenly-matched Solomon Islands and Tahiti sides fought out a tense 45 minutes of few clear-cut chances.
Coach Patrice Flaccadori had to wait until ten minutes after the break for his Tahitian team to finally find a break through, Tihoni Yohann diverting a Rainui Aroita shot past goalkeeper Jerry Misimake.
It looked like Tahiti had wrapped the game up when Misimake forced a Tevairoa Tehuritaua cross into his own net with just five minutes remaining but the Solomon Islands hit back immediately through substitute Alex Waimora.
That set up a frantic final few moments as the Solomon Islanders desperately tried to find an equaliser but Tahiti hung on for a vital victory.
The win puts them at the top of Group B with an excellent chance to go on and book themselves a place in the final.
Just how important the result could prove was etched on the faces of the Solomon Islands bench at the final whistle, including that of coach Chris Asipara.
“We were a bit unlucky with the own goal and that put the game in their favour,” he says. “We were very much aware of the kind of football Tahiti would play and we tried to contain them. They have some big boys and play in quite a physical style which made it harder for us to get our passing game going.”
Despite the loss, Solomon Islands still have every chance of progressing with games against Tonga and Cook Islands to come, both of which they will be heavily fancied to win.
New Caledonia have also kept their hopes alive with today’s splendid victory and much will depend on their crunch clash with Tahiti on Saturday.
Underdogs Cook Islands began in determined fashion and managed to keep the scores level until the 36th minute, when New Caledonia captain Stephane Tein-Padom lead by example to put his side ahead. Substitute Thomas Buscaglia grabbed another before half-time and it looked like the game was now over as a contest.
But the plucky Cook Islanders had other ideas and were right back in it when Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri headed home a corner just after the break.
The revival proved short-lived however as Tein-Padom went on to notch a hat-trick, as did substitute Renaldo Nonmeu, and Buscaglia grabbed his second.
Cook Islands coach Tuka Tisam knew his charges would find the going tough in Auckland but was proud of their efforts this afternoon.
“Overall, I thought they did well,” he says. “The game didn’t go our way but they did their best. We scored at a good time and we thought we might have had them in that ten minutes afterwards but it wasn’t to be.”
The challenge does not get any easier for Cook Islands as they face the in-form Tahitians next but Tisam is targeting a win against Tonga on Saturday.
“Our goal at this tournament is to at least pick up three points,” he says.
Today’s action will see Fiji take on New Zealand at 1.30pm in what could be one of the games of the tournament so far while Papua New Guinea meet American Samoa at 4pm. Both games take place on the outer oval at North Harbour Stadium.