Terry Maddaford: Honiara stunner a red-letter day for O-league

Add a comment

The stunning 3-1 win by Solomon Islands champions Kossa FC over Waitakere United in the first leg of their O-League play-off in Honiara on Saturday was hugely significant.

Its importance is not only because it is the greatest result for an Oceania island nation since Vanuatu's 4-2 win over the All Whites at the 2004 Nations Cup in Adelaide.

The win also heralds new hope for a confederation under increasing scrutiny as automatic entry to Fifa tournaments is continually challenged and for the fledgling nations determined to make a statement.

Although Fifa president Sepp Blatter has been among those raising doubts about Oceania's ongoing status, he will, surely, take real satisfaction at the result of the match played at the Lawson Tama Stadium - a ground developed to international standard through Fifa's worldwide Goal Project programme.

And those who might hold reservations about the standing of the game in the supposed "outposts" of the far-flung confederation would have been more than heartened by the massive turnout for what quickly became a festive occasion, sparking unprecedented scenes in the Solomon Islands capital.

Clubs in New Zealand can only dream of the level of support the Kossa team enjoyed - and responded to.

Cheered by a wildly enthusiastic crowd estimated to be around 18,000 at kick-off (and with a further 5000 outside the ground), Kossa went on the offensive from the first blast of Fiji referee Rakesh Varman's whistle.

Led by James Naka - later named man of the match - the home side quickly shrugged off any underdog tag. With Reg Davani, a player well-known at various levels in New Zealand, and Joe Luwi joining Naka in an often rampant attacking trio, the re-jigged Waitakere four-man defence were stretched to breaking point - and eventually, beyond.

A team unbeaten in their past nine outings, but this time in unfamiliar heat, found themselves playing second fiddle to a team on a mission.

Luwi's tap-in, after a blistering 18m Naka shot had rattled the crossbar, sparked wild scenes. When Luwi turned the ball into the gaping goal after goalkeeper Richard Gillespie had spilled a cracking left-foot shot from Davani for 2-0 the crowd went crazy.

Before the break United coach Chris Milicich replaced Daniel Kopricvic with Jason Hayne from the bench. Four minutes into the second spell the visitors finally converted from set play when Jonathan Perry scored from a corner.

Encouraged, the New Zealand champions hunted for more but were constantly thwarted by the clinical Kossa defence. Even returning local hero Benjamin Totori could not rescue the team from his homeland.

Milicich rang more changes but the hosts had the last say when Naka's untiring efforts were rewarded with an 86th-minute goal, neatly chipped over Gillespie.

The final whistle sparked mad scenes punctuated by unbroken blasts of car horns as Honiara went crazy.

For a team who had conceded more than one goal only three times in the NZFC season - two in the first and last games and three in losing to YoungHeart Manawatu mid-season - it was hard to accept.

The visitors will point to several factors - the heat in particular and the need to reshuffle to cover the loss of injured captain and key defender Danny Hay - as reasons for the loss.

They must now prepare for the May 11 return at Trusts Stadium fully aware a 2-0 win will earn them a second successive O-League crown. To concede even one goal would make that equation harder and give the Solomon Islanders hope of stepping on to a global stage at the Fifa World Club Cup in Japan in December.

United know what they must do. They also must accept they will have nothing like the support Kossa FC enjoyed in what will always rate as one of the great days for Oceania football.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 23 Mar 2017 11:15:24 Processing Time: 858ms