The Sol2023 Pacific Games men’s football competition kicked off in Honiara on Friday with the hosts securing a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Samoa at Lawson Tama Stadium.
In a closely contested match, Solomon Islands faced a resilient Samoa side that displayed a well-structured game, particularly showcasing a solid defence and making several close attempts at scoring.
The first half concluded without either team finding the back of the net despite a series of scoring chances from both sides. Despite their lacklustre performance, Solomon Islands had more scoring opportunities in the first half, although they failed to meet the expectations of the home fans.
Solomon Islands coach Felipe Arango took decisive action by making an early substitution, bringing in John Orobulu in place of Micah Lea’alafa.
This strategic move proved crucial, as Orobulu netted the lone winning goal just 10 minutes into the second half.
While acknowledging the team’s victory, Arango expressed his dissatisfaction with the overall performance, stating that the squad did not meet the anticipated level of play. Nevertheless, he expressed gratitude for initiating their campaign with a win, securing a crucial three points.
“We are not happy the way that we play, but we have not played a home game in five years.
“The boys were very nervous. I could tell we didn’t have the speed, we didn’t have the intensity, and we didn’t have what we have had in other games in the past.
“At half-time I told them that we needed some energy, so I had to make a couple of changes.
“Despite that, that’s a win, that’s three points and we have to forget this game and look forward for the next one,” Arango said.
The Solomon Islands team now looks ahead to their next match against American Samoa on Thursday 23 November at Lawson Tama, aiming to build on this initial success and further solidify their position in the tournament by topping Pool D.
Samoa coach Ryan Stewart was impressed with his young team’s performance, despite the result. “We knew that it was going to be tough and personally I think that Solomon Islands, apart from New Zealand, are probably the best team in the Pacific. So, we knew it was going to be a hard day in these conditions,” he said.
“But I asked the boys to give everything, and everyone watching at home would probably see that they did. They left it all out there, tried to frustrate Solomon Islands, tried to get the crowd turned a little bit and a little bit off edge.
“I think we did well, we could have conceded, we should have cleared that, but we didn’t, and then we nearly had one at the end we could have scored.
“We’ll move on and try to do well on Monday,” he said.
Solomon Islands v Samoa was the second of two men’s football matches scheduled for day one of the competition, however the opening match between Tuvalu and PNG was forfeited by Tuvalu due to travel-related delays.
By Carlos Aruafu, Pacific Games News Service