BY ROMULUS HUTA
THE national women’s soccer side fought out a nil-all draw against hosts Fiji in match day two of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifier currently underway at Lautoka’s Churchill Park.
The draw proved that the two teams are inseparable meaning they are forced to continue sharing top spot in the standings, with Fiji goal difference giving them a slight advantage.
In the other match, Vanuatu has bagged their first points of the competition after edging American Samoa by a goal to nil.
The match between Solomon Islands and Fiji was the top-of-the-table clash. A win by either side could have seen one of those two teams take a clear lead in the standings.
By fulltime however, the match was scoreless, leaving the battle for the top spot to remain open and will have to be decided on match day three later this week.
Knowing what is at stake in this competition, Solomon Islands and Fiji came out determined to play the best football possible which meant strong defending.
That left little opportunity for the attacking side of the game for either side.
That’s not to say they weren’t without their chances.
Cema Nasau, Luisa Tamanitoakula and Trina Davis looked as threatening yesterday as they did in their opening match against Vanuatu, however Margaret Kofela and her backline were more than up to the challenge.
At the other end Ileen Pegi and Laydah Samani once again led the Solomon Islands offensive efforts but like their opponents, couldn’t find a way to break down that final line.
After playing out the first 45 minutes scoreless, there remained the whole of the second half for one of the side’s to gain an advantage.
On the stroke of the hour, Solomon Islands created a wonderful opportunity when Imelda Tehekeni sent the ball over the backline for Crystal Bakalo to give chase. The veteran striker controlled the ball down well pulling it back for an arriving Laydah Samani who left the woodwork shuddering with her powerful strike.
That chance signalled a lift in intensity from the Fijians who realised how close they had come to falling behind, and they launched a wave of attacks on the Solomon Islands goal which had Margaret Kofela working overtime to keep them out of her goal.
As the clock counted down Fiji continued to put pressure on the Solomon Islanders however were unable to find a much coveted goal.
Fiji’s Marika Rodu said the approach from Solomon Islands was well thought through and well executed.
“They were a team that had a deep block, deep into their territory, which was hard to break down,” Rodu explained.
“We worked on few ways to try and break this stubborn defence but we were not technical enough to keep the ball and move this defensive block out of the way.
“It was expected to be a tough game, Solomons would have watched our game against Vanuatu and they’ve drawn up a very tough game plan, then they were much disciplined in executing it so hats off to them.”
Although Fiji sought a win and three points to secure their place at the top of the standings, Rodu said despite that not being the case today (yesterday) he remains optimistic of their chances.
However with that optimism also comes the need to continue tidying things up on the field.
“We need to be more patient with the ball. We lost possession because we forced the game too much. We need to maintain good organisation at the same time.”
Taking a point from the match was a heartening result for Solomon Islands coach Diane Justus who admitted that Fiji were a stronger side.
“The result is satisfactory for us because we knew this Fijian side was a better side than us, they had the advantage of more supporters here but we managed to get over that challenge,” she said.
“I’m very excited because our girls did what we planned to do, even though we knew it was not going to be easy.
“Everybody just gave more than 100 per cent and it worked so we’re excited to still be in the running to qualify.”
Fiji and Solomon Islands remain locked on four points each, with Vanuatu just a point behind them with three making Thursday’s final match day a crucial one for the three sides.