Solomons complete sweep of Vanuatu

Port Vila, 7 April 2004: The Solomon Islands national team defeated Vanuatu, 2-1, in the second friendly match yesterday in Port Vila, to secure a series sweep after winning the first match last Saturday by the same score-line margin.

In front of another packed house at Korman Stadium, Vanuatu again struck first with the first goal after 18 minutes. But thereafter, there weren't too many chances for the home team as the visitors dominated the possession. The Vanuatu goal came about against the run of play as the potent Solomons front-line again kept the Vanuatu defence busy from the opening whistle to the end.

Despite being down early, the Solomons persistence was finally rewarded when wily veteran striker Batram Suri headed in the equaliser in the 34th minute after a good build-up. The Solomon Islands suffered a blow just before the break when Philip Kaukui got his marching orders for a second bookable offence pulling down Vanuatu striker Jean Maleb on a typical surging drive to the goal.

But even with ten men down for the remaining half, the Solomon Islands were simply too organised for the tiring Vanuatu team. Despite valiant attempts to break the deadlock, the Vanuatu players could not break down the Solomons defence which held strong. The Solomons clinched victory towards the end through Commins Menapi blasting home the winner which deflated the home side who showed more attacking enterprise compared to the first match but was not able to finish.

A good gesture from players and officials of both sides followed after the final whistle as they mingled and shook hands with the supporters and fans that turned up, all with smiles having witnessed another Melanesian extravaganza.

It was a good sign for visitors after a nightmarish 12 months where the national team failed to live up to expectations at last year's South Pacific Games then its national under 23 team which included the likes of NSL star Henry Fa'arodo, suffered a shock 0-1 loss to Samoa en route to a disappointing fourth place finish in the Olympic Qualifiers.

But with the arrival of English FA coach Alan Gillett in early March and the inception of a new semi-pro national league back in Honiara, catering for elite club players, a new leaf has seemingly been turned. Defeating Vanuatu on their home soil, no matter what their strength is a difficult assignment in itself so to win two on the trot and winning over the local fans at the same time means a good start to Solomon Islands campaign for World Cup qualification. Vanuatu on the other hand was undermanned up front and not as fit or prepared and will no doubt bounce back in time for next month's qualifiers.

The Solomon Islands team now returns to Honiara to prepare for their next warm-up match against a visiting Adelaide team from Australia next week. Later this month, the team will travel to Fiji for three further warm-up friendly internationals.


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