Soccer: Kiwis meet Vanuatu in Olympic mission

By Terry Maddaford

Neil Emblen. Photo / Natalie Slade
Neil Emblen. Photo / Natalie Slade

New Zealand will play Vanuatu in tomorrow's second semifinal at the Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament after the Oly Whites beat Tonga 10-0 and Vanuatu fell 2-1 to Fiji in yesterday's last round of pool play at Taupo's Owen Delany Park.

The three games, put back a day after high winds ruled out any play on Wednesday, produced widely differing results with the Solomon Islands coming from a goal down to thrash American Samoa 16-1 in the day's opener before New Zealand maintained their 100 per cent record against Tonga after leading 3-0 at halftime.

In the crucial group A match with the winner to avoid New Zealand in the semifinals, Fiji took a 2-0 halftime lead with goals from a corner and free-kick.

Needing just a draw to win the group, Vanuatu hit back with the only goal of the second half but could not find a second.

Fiji will play Papua New Guinea in the first semifinal.

Oly Whites coach Neil Emblen had no real preference as he watched Fiji and Vanuatu battle it out in the wet conditions.

"Who knows, we might have to beat them both to win it," said Emblen. "Vanuatu are probably less physical than Fiji but they have more pace up front. The best four teams are in the semifinals and every team now has to step up."

While happy with the result against Tonga - Louis Fenton and 63rd-minute substitutes Ethan Galbraith and Sean Lovemore all scored twice - Emblen said his team had not fully hit their straps.

"We took our chances and have yet to concede a goal," said Emblen.

"If we continue to do that we should be okay."

Emblen pointed to defender James Musa as his standout in yesterday's win and knows he will have a tough job in settling on the starting line-up for the semifinal.

"It is must win and we have plenty of options including Dakota Lucas, who missed this game through suspension.

"We will again go with a 4-3-3 formation and with no injuries we have a full squad to pick from."

Both goalkeepers, Jake Gleeson and Michael O'Keefe, have had a game but with not a lot of work he has had little to gauge them on.

The early semifinal promises to be keenly fought but with Fiji as slight favourites in making it three-from-three in pool play whereas PNG lost - but only by a goal - to New Zealand and only won 3-0 over Tonga.

- NZ Herald

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