Tahiti was knocked out of the Sol2023 Pacific Games men’s football competition on goal difference, despite putting five goals past a much-improved Northern Mariana Islands on Friday evening at SIFF Academy.
Coming into the match after their scoreless draw with Fiji, the Samuel Garcia-coached side needed an unenviable 11+ goal difference to top their pool and qualify for the semi-finals, due to Fiji beating Northern Mariana Islands 10-0 in their clash.
Instead, Fiji will go through as Pool C winners.
Speaking after the match, a disappointed Garcia said: “I apologise to our fans because the result was not what we expected; however, it was a pretty tough challenge that our boys faced today.
“After all, the game of football is anybody’s match to win or lose. We don’t choose the results; everybody’s aim is to win. We won but not by the margin we needed.”
It took Tahiti 38 minutes to open proceedings, with Teaonui Tehau registering the Polynesian side’s first goal of the Sol2023 Pacific Games. Shawn Tinirauarii added Tahiti’s second in the 43rd minute, just before halftime.
Tahiti came back in the second half and pressed high up the pitch, looking for more goals, and added another three, but unfortunately, time was not on their side.
Their opponents, Northern Mariana Islands, will now meet American Samoa in the play-offs for 5th position, along with all the other teams that failed to qualify for a top four spot.
“People here in Honiara are very friendly, very nice, as well as supportive and cheering us on during our games. Even though we are a very small country, we feel at home here,” said Northern Mariana Islands coach Michiteru Mita.
He added that even with the results posted in Honiara, his side has proved that they can compete with the teams that are part of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
“We have many programs, and we try to develop football with our very small population, but with all we have, we can prove that we can compete with other countries in this region,” he said.
Seven-time gold medallist New Caledonia confirmed its place in the semi-finals after beating Cook Islands 8-0 in Friday’s earlier match.
The men’s semi-finals will take place on Tuesday at Lawson Tama Stadium, with New Caledonia taking on Vanuatu at 12pm, followed by Fiji and hosts Solomon Islands battling it out in the 3pm match.
By Timothy Inifiri Jnr and Meleseini Tufui, Pacific Games News Service