Draw rejuvenates hope

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It feels like win: Felipe

BY ROMULUS HUTA

THE performance by the Solomon Islands national soccer side in yesterday’s 2-all draw against the New Zealand All Whites in Honiara would in some way helped rejuvenated some form of pride in the soccer-mad nation’s football hopes.

Despite going down 6-1 in the away leg last Friday at the Auckland’s QBE Stadium, Solomon Islands clawed their back in the home leg by holding off the mighty and professionally-dominated All Whites to a draw infront of a roaring thousands of fans at the Lawson Tama Stadium – something that was sure to have gone down well with the entire local football community.

The 8-3 aggregate result produced by the All Whites over the two-legged fixtures have guaranteed them a spot in November’s Inter-continental play-off against the fifth-placed South American (CONMEBOL) side with the winner claiming entry into next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.

But according to Felipe Vega-Arango Alonso, whose contract as head coach expires today, he described the draw as a win for him.

“For me, it feels like a win. We are losing to nothing in 20 minutes with two mistakes against a professional team while my players being all amateurs. We must never forget about that gap.”

The match started and All Whites found themselves leading after 14 minutes when a persistent Myer Bevan put the visitors infront capitalising on a loose ball in the box following a ricocheted effort from Kosta Barbarouses.

Seven minutes later, they extended lead to 2-0 and Barbarouses, evading a sliding tackle from Henry Fa’arodo in the process, unleashed his cross from the left which deflected off Harddis Aengari’s head to find way past goalkeeper Philip Mango, who had already advanced off his mark.

In the 28th minute, Solomon Islands pulled one back through Micah Lea’alafa’s spot kick and that liven up things for them to get back into the game.

Prior to that, Benjamin Totori almost got his name on the scoresheet with his left footer shot, only for Stefan Marinovic to pull out a well-fashioned save in full stretch.

Solomon Islands dominated possession and mounted pressure against the All Whites deep into the area.

The combination of Lea’alafa, Gagame Feni, Totori and Clifton Aumae proved handful for All Whites every time when surging forward close to the box but opportunities were left squandered.

In one of their well-crafted moves, Fa’arodo picked up a pass outside the area and unleashed a shot which forced Marinovic to the best of his ability and made a fingertip save.

The homeside’s dominance continued into the second half and the introduction of Atkin Kaua and James Naka onto the fray proved effective as the latter was brought down in the box.

Fa’arodo stepped up and made no mistake putting the scores to 2-all from the spot, sending Marinovic the wrong way 13 minutes from the end of regulation time.

Alonso said: “I think we did a wonderful job and it would be really unfair to lose the game. 2-2 is a good score for both teams. We have more chances than they did, actually, a lot more.

“And I think it’s a good stepping stone for the country. They need to be working in the right direction. And if they keep working this way, the future of the Solomon Islands football looks bright to me,” the Spaniard said.

Despite the draw, All Whites coach Anthony Hudson was relieved they made it through to the Inter-continental play-off.

“The objective for us is to get to the final.

“So I don’t care. When you win 8-3 on aggregate, I don’t think anyone will complain.

“I think we still give credit to the home team tonight.

“We made five changes in the team. We already have lots of first team players who are not on this tour. So to get an 8-3 result on aggregate, for us to get to the final is very pleasing and a job well done.

“We have to make sure we prepare proper in October and get all our best players back and we’re ready for November,” the Englishman said.

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