BY ROMULUS HUTA
THE man who led the national under-17 side to create a history that went down into the country’s football books two decades ago by defeating the New Zealand under-17 side for the first time, has urge members of the national under-16 team to repeat similar feat.
Joel Moffat Konofilia, who is an outspoken football critic, is rallying full support behind the national under-16 side.
Konofilia called on the youngsters to play to their best and go for three points when the home side takes on New Zealand in the crucial Pool A match of the OFC Championship 3pm this afternoon at Lawson Tama Stadium.
Konofilia captained the Solomon Islands under-17 team when they defeated New Zealand 2-1 on May 1, 1993 during the Oceania Under-17 World Cup Qualifiers hosted in Honiara, thanks to goals by former reps Paul Kakai Junior and John Mark Ofu, respectively.
Recollecting how the match unfolded 25 years ago infront of a capacity crowd at the old Lawson Tama Stadium, the scoreline was locked at nil-all by halftime before Kakai Junior found the opener in the 55th minute to put the Patrick Miniti-coached side infront leading by 1-0.
Thirteen minutes later, Mark Ofu scored the winner when he dribbled one on one against the New Zealand goalkeeper before slotting the ball past him into the back of the net.
New Zealand, which was coached by former All White Glen Turner that time, attempted a strong come-back following the two-goal deficit. However they could only manage to score one goal before the referee blew the whistle for fulltime. That historic victory earned Solomon Islands a spot in the grand final for the first time where they went up against Australia but lost 3-0.
The second place position attained in the 1993 qualifiers becomes the best and the highest result ever for Solomon Islands at the under-17 level and it remains unrivalled until today.
Other players who featured alongside Konofilia, Mark Ofu and Kakai Junior during that moment back then were Frank Fono, Robert Seni, Freddie Fa’arodo, Leslie Leo, Nick Lamani, Gideon Omokirio, John Solodia, Wilfred Suruau, Peter Taka, Henry Berry, Petaia Delaiverata Junior, Eddie Rifasia, Cliff Sasau and John Noni to name a few.
“Well, it happened 25 years ago and that time Oceania only has one qualification spot for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. There was Australia and one team qualifying.
“We played with our hearts back then to beat New Zealand and get a place in the final. I would like the boys to do the same again in this tournament and qualify into the Under-17 world cup. This is our chance.
“I’m wishing that we would take this opportunity, especially with our home crowd to make it through,” Konofilia expressed.
The former national midfielder said that Solomon Islands have a very balanced team going into this competition.
“We have a very balanced team now.
“It all comes down to our coaches’ abilities to build momentum and hit climax during the matches.
“All the best to head coach Stanley Waita. With young coach Jerry Sam on the sideline, I’m more confident that we will get there. All the best to the players as well. Make us proud as the nation is right behind the team.
“I’m a bit disappointed that the boys didn’t have any international friendlies but the time to dwell on that is over. It’s now time to stand behind our boys and help them pull out the best that is stored in them,” Konofilia uttered.
Konofilia’s former head coach back then Patrick Miniti posted on the Marist club’s social network page by sharing similar sentiments.
“History was made 25 years ago when SI beat NZ in the semi-final of the under-17 OFC tournament and played Australia in the final and was beaten 3-0.
“If we were following the new system of qualification, SI would have qualified already for the FIFA World under-17 football tournament!
“We believe the history can be repeated this time for the SI and they can qualify for the upcoming FIFA Under17 tournament.
“Cheers everyone, please come in numbers to support our team during this OFC qualifying tournament.
“We wish our national under 16 team good luck and all the best for their matches, GO SOLO GO! A special tribute goes to our national under 17 of 1993!” Miniti stated.
Meanwhile, the first match for today will begin at 10am between PNG and Vanuatu.
Gate fee for the grandstand at Lawson Tama is $50.00 while the hillside fee is $20.00