Showdown

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Solomon Islands take on New Zealand in table-topping clash

BY ROMULUS HUTA

Charles Mani and Raphael Le’ai ‘Rafa’ will lead Solomon Islands against New Zealand this afternoon in the OFC Under-16 championship Pool A contest.

AN exciting showdown awaits football fans as 2018 OFC Under-16 Championship host nation Solomon Islands take on New Zealand in a much-anticipated and a mouth-watering clash 3pm this afternoon.

With a roaring capacity crowd expected to fill up the Lawson Tama Stadium end-to-end, the outcome of this crucial contest determines who will lead Group A points table in the campaign for the semi-finals.

Solomon Islands and New Zealand share three points each at the top of the table following their respective opening wins over PNG and Vanuatu on match day one. However, differences in goal calculations pushed the home side down to second spot sitting below the visitors.

The homeside, chasing one of the much-coveted two allocated spots for Oceania in next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru, know it is a must-win game for them. A second win will certainly mean putting one foot in the semi-finals. The same goes for seven-time champions New Zealand.

With few hours remaining on the clock, this matchup had already boiled up talks from the two opposing coaches.

“We expect a difficult match against New Zealand,” Solomon Islands under-16 coach Stanley Waita said.

“I don’t know much about the New Zealand team but as we all know, they’re the powerhouse in Oceania.

“My boys will be prepared to take on the junior All Whites, especially playing in front of our home fans.

“We’ll work on what we can do to play against New Zealand but we are on for it.”

Waita feels there is more pressure playing at home soil and will be treating this encounter more special than any other of their run-ins.

Waita said the first win on Sunday against PNG had eased down the pressure that weighed in heavily upon his shoulder and is strongly focussing on today’s assignment.

“In pool game situations, I need to calculate well how we’re going to go taking into considerations the makeup of the other pool.

“I would like to finish the pool at the top. Therefore, we need to come out with a win in Wednesday’s game against New Zealand, which would be a good thing for us.

“I want all home supporters to go behind the team.

New Zealand captain Campbell Strong will lead the junior All Whites against Solomon Islands today.

“I urge all supporters to come out in numbers when we take on New Zealand on Wednesday (today).

“I’m a Liverpool fan and when you go to Anfield, there’s always a 12-man Liverpool. The 12th are the supporters. So supporters, please come out and let’s play with 12-man on Wednesday against New Zealand,” Waita appealed on Sunday.

On the other hand, New Zealand coach Jose Figuiera has had the opportunity to watch Solomon Islands take down PNG on Sunday and already knows what to expect.

Figueira is no stranger to the usual big game atmosphere at Lawson Tama Stadium having been here during February and March this year with his club Team Wellington for the Oceania Club Champions League’s Group D competition.

“Yeah, it’s a good opportunity for us to start off with a win and be able to watch our next opponents and you know, probably what we expected in front of a good home crowd support, and the quite exciting attacking Solomon Islands team.

“I think for sure leading into the second game pose a few problems for us so you know, we’ll be doing our homework and our preparations so that we can still do what we want to do on the pitch.

“We have recovered over the past days and will have a light training in the morning (today) before the match.

“After reviewing our first match and the Solomon Islands game, we’ll look to select a team from there and put in the players we think will cause them problems and it won’t necessarily be the same team. But I think the team that played in the first game had a very good start and definitely put their hands up to be selected again,” the Englishman added.

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