by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
The ninth OCF Nations cup started with a goal feast as Samoa were given a thrashing at the hands of Tahiti, who won 10-1in Group A, with nine of the goals being scored by members of the same family. Alvin, Teaonui, Johnathon, and Lorenzo Tehau all netted, with Lorenzo’s 4 goal haul including a 3 minute hat-trick.
The goals continued to flow in Group A over the rest of the week, Vanuatu conceded 5 against New Caledonia and Tahiti, whilst scoring 5 themselves against Samoa. The hapless Samoans then suffered another defeat by a nine goal margin at the hands of New Caledonia to finish at the bottom of the group with a goal record of one scored and twenty four conceded in three games. The game of the first week though was Tahiti’s 4-3 victory over New Caledonia. After 53 minutes New Caledonia found themselves 3-0 down with nine men on the pitch after two sending offs. From the seemingly hopeless position they came back only to narrowly lose 4-3.
Group B, that contained the defending champions and red hot favourites New Zealand, was by comparison to Group A a more subdued affair. New Zealand were seemingly content to take an early lead, and then defend what they had, as they won their first two games against Fiji and Papua New Guinea by a single goal margin, but in a somewhat unconvincing fashion. Although to be fair they were probably concerned with preserving energy for a schedule which would see them play four games in seven days, and in temperatures often approaching 40 degrees centigrade.
The other favourites in the group, the host nation, the Solomon Islands were just as unconvincing. Backed by capacity crowds of 15,000 they beat a well-drilled Papua New Guinea 1-0 before being held by the Fijians, in the tournament’s only 0-0 draw. The final game of the group saw New Zealand and the Solomon Islands playing for top place in the group as both teams had already qualified following the draw earlier in the day between Fiji and Papua New Guinea. The game seemed to be following the familiar pattern of New Zealand’s earlier games when they took an early lead through West Brom’s Chris Wood. However, the Solomons took the game to New Zealand and got the equaliser they richly deserved through Benjamin Totori who beat a couple of New Zealanders before rifling in a tremendous shot and score what was possibly the goal of the tournament, and is well worth checking out on YouTube. The game finished all square, and while New Zealand finished at the top of the group, they would have to admit that they had been outplayed by the hosts, who at 183 in the FIFA rankings before the tournament began lay some 53 places below them. It was the first time in Solomon Islands history that they had avoided defeat against the New Zealanders.
The semi-finalists, who had also booked a place for the next round of qualifying for the 2014 world Cup, were then the hosts Solomon Islands versus the so far highly impressive Tahiti side, and the two highest FIFA ranked teams in the tournament, New Zealand who were ranked at 130, and New Caledonia at 155. Tahiti won 1-0 in the first semi-final, while the second saw New Caledonia deservedly beat New Zealand 2-0 with two second half goals. While, maybe not quite a worldwide shock on a par with say the USA beating England in 1950, it was the first time that New Caledonia had beaten New Zealand, and caused quite a ripple in this part of the Pacific Ocean as it meant that, for the first time, a Pacific Island team would lift the trophy that only New Zealand and Australia had held before
New Zealand went onto finish third by beating Solomon Islands 4-3 in the third place playoff, a game in which they had led 3-0 at half-time, and only secured victory in injury time. Tahiti went onto win the final 1-0, a result that fittingly meant the team who had probably played the best in the tournament had won it.
Another source of pride for Tahitians is that they now go on to represent their region in the now traditional world cup prelude, the Confederations Cup, which is to be held in Brazil 2013. Not only will this generate an estimated $1 million for them, but they will also be afforded the rare honour for team from this part of the world of playing against the world’s best.