Vanuatu and hosts Solomon Islands clinched their spots in the Sol2023 Pacific Games men’s football semi-finals through decisive quarter-final wins in front of a packed home crowd at Lawson Tama Stadium on Thursday.
Vanuatu sealed their semi-final berth via a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Papua New Guinea (PNG).
With Vanuatu needing only a draw and PNG aiming for a win to advance, tension ran high at Lawson Tama. PNG’s Claude Aru managed to score the opening goal just before halftime, putting Vanuatu on edge.
However, Vanuatu rallied, with Nigel Dabinyaba securing a crucial equaliser later in the second half that propelled them into the semi-finals.
Despite a series of goal attempts by PNG, Vanuatu’s steady defence held firm, marking the match as one of the most intense of the Games so far.
Reflecting on the challenging encounter, Vanuatu’s coach Emerson Alcantara, emphasised the significance of this test in preparing the team for the upcoming semi-finals.
“Today was a big test for us, and I am proud of the team,” he told the Pacific Games News Service.
“It’s good preparation for us for the semi-finals. It also reminds us to remain focused despite the high intensity of the match.
“This match was not easy; PNG is a good team, and they played as a team but the crowd was also fantastic; they were behind our qualification for the semi-finals,” the Brazilian coach added.
Meanwhile, PNG’s coach Warren Moon praised his players’ performances but lamented their inability to capitalise on scoring opportunities.
“I was really proud of my team today and the way they played football,” he said. “We deserved to score; we were the better team in the first half.”
Adding to the disappointment, the team faced a setback, as they were unable to make a substitution after one of their players sustained an injury.
“I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t get a sub,” Moon said. “We had an injured player, and we were trying to get a sub on with the officials, but we couldn’t, so they scored from that, and ultimately that cost us because we had 10 men when they scored the goal.
“I’m really disappointed that we weren’t able to make the sub when we wanted to; it was a big turning point in the game. We had chances after that but couldn’t take them.”
The second match saw hosts Solomon Islands ease past American Samoa with a comfortable 11-0 win.
Despite suffering their second significant defeat, American Samoa coach Reuben Luvu expressed gratitude for the opportunity to compete against the host country with his remarkably young side in this Games.
He acknowledged their missed chances and the challenge of not finishing as expected.
Despite the setbacks, he emphasised the youthfulness of their squad, with the majority of players being under 19 years old, and that participation here has been crucial for their development.
Solomon Islands coach Felipe Arango was delighted to have made it to the semifinals.
“It’s good to win; we are into the next stage, so we must stay focused,” he said.
“I would like to congratulate American Samoa for their fighting spirit; they did not give up despite the big score margin,” he added.
Football continues on Friday across the men’s and women’s competitions.
In men’s matches at SIFF Academy, Cook Islands face New Caledonia at 4pm followed by Northern Mariana Islands v Tahiti at 7pm. Entry is $30 for either venue.
In the women’s event, Tonga and Samoa will face offintheir final pool match at 12pm at Lawson Tama,followed by Fiji v Solomon Islands at 3pm.
By Carlos Aruafu, Pacific Games News Service