Kurukuru captain Elliot Ragomo played a starring role for the Solomon Islands as they downed New Zealand 4-1 to move three points clear of the pack on Wednesday at the 2016 OFC Futsal Championship in Fiji.
Ragomo had his side 1-0 up at halftime at Vodafone Arena after New Zealand captain Marvin Eakins had a penalty saved by Solomon Islands goalkeeper Anthony Talo.
The second half saw the New Zealand start strongly as they fought to get level but they couldn’t find the goal they needed and the Solomon Islands – who have qualified for two previous FIFA Futsal World Cups – struck three times in the final 11 minutes through Jack Wetney, Ragomo and Jeffrey Bule to secure the victory.
Futsal Whites pivot Miroslav Malivuk got the New Zealand side on the board in the 31st minute, thundering home a shot while the Kiwis were using the fifth man tactic.
Despite being on the wrong end of the final score, Futsal Whites coach Scott Gilligan was quick to credit the performance of his side.
“I can’t fault the boys,” Gilligan said. “They gave everything and were just beaten by a better team on the night. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.
“To be honest I think we made some good chances in the first half but we didn’t make as much of them as we should have.”
With two matches remaining, the Solomon Islands sit on nine points while New Zealand sit in second place on six points along with Vanuatu.
The match started evenly, with both sides having some early opportunities as they exchanged possession back and forth.
Ragomo opened the scoring in the seventh minute, letting rip rip low and hard after a stunning solo advance.
New Zealand kept pressing for a leveller but between the work of Talo and some strong defence, the Futsal Whites weren’t able to make their pressure show on the scoreboard.
The Futsal Whites then had a prime opportunity to equalise with just over six minutes on the clock after the Solomons accumulated their sixth foul – but Talo stared down Eakins’ effort and blocked it away.
Chasing the equaliser in the second half, the Futsal Whites held out their opponents as they pressed forward, but they only managed to keep it that way for ten minutes before Wetney slid a Ragomo cross into the net just before the 30 minute mark.
Soon after Ragomo made it 3-1 with a flick over New Zealand ‘keeper Elias Billeh. The fourth and final goal was another stunning strike with the hardworking James Egeta setting Bule up.
A mixture of delight and relief was written on coach Juliano Schmeling’s face after the match, with the pleasure of winning a crucial match on the road to Colombia 2016 still sinking in.
“The boys performed well, definitely I’m happy as it is three more points, but it’s not finished yet. We have two more games and nothing is decided yet,” he said before acknowledging the strides New Zealand has made to get to their current stage.
“New Zealand have come from a big project, they are doing so well in New Zealand and I think they’re an example for all Pacific Island nations.”
The New Zealand side’s next game is on Friday at 9pm (NZ time) against hosts Fiji.
The winner of the competition qualifies for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia.
OFC Futsal Championships 2016
Wednesday 10 February
Solomon Islands 4-1 New Zealand (half: 1-0)
SOL: Elliot Ragomo 7.18’, 30.21’, Jack Wetney 29.30’, Jeffrey Bule 37.31’
NZL: Miroslav Malivuk 31.51’