BY ROMULUS HUTA
AN inspirational performance from Raphael Le’ai saw him seized a hat-trick and a brace on his 16th birthday as Solomon Islands whipped PNG 5-0 in yesterday’s Pool A contest of the OFC Under-16 championship in Honiara.
Le’ai’s four goals couldn’t come at a better time but rather on his actual birthday in his debut international football appearance. Personally, this means a lot to him in the most possible way.
“The four goals I scored means a lot to me and it’s a perfect celebration of my 16th birthday which is today (yesterday). This is the first game and it’s a really important win for us.
“Our victory also shows that it’s a good start to our campaign. This will set the tone for us ahead of going into the second game on Wednesday against another strong challenge which is New Zealand.
“I aim to score more goals in the remaining matches in the competition,” an overwhelmed Le’ai, who is known as ‘Rafa’ to his team mates and close friends, told SunSPORTS in an interview after the match.
Fellow team-mate Chris Satu joins Le’ai on the scoresheet and this sum up a perfect start for coach Stanley Waita and his boys infront of a vocal home crowd support at the Lawson Tama Stadium.
Waita was impressed with the remarkable performance put up by the young striker.
“Rafa did extremely well. He did exactly of what was expected from him.
“It’s a bonus having him in our team. I look forward to see him score more goals in this competition.”
The four goals by Le’ai put him in the number one position ahead of everyone in the race for golden boot in this competition after match day one.
The rising star, who is dubbed as the Solomon Islands latest ‘futsal prodigy’, is blessed with a natural left foot and an eye for goal and that initially surfaced with an impressive performance at the OFC Youth Futsal Tournament last year in New Zealand where he won the golden boot award with a staggering 35 goals across six matches.
Le’ai was called in by the Solomon Islands Football Federation technical department to assist the national under-16 side where he had to switch code from playing the indoor version to the conventional (11-a-side), despite also being faced up with another preparation for next month’s Youth Olympic Games’ futsal competition in Argentina with the under-17 futsal side.