Raphael Lea’i scores a hat-trick as Solomon Islands defeat Tahiti in WCQ

Solomon Islands and Tahiti clashed at Al-Arabi Stadium in Doha to decide which side would finish on top of Group A after the withdrawal of Vanuatu and the Cook Islands from the tournament.

The team coached by Felipe Vega-Arango had only one change to its starting eleven compared to their previous game against the Cook Islands. Javin Wae, back from injury, returned to the backline in place of Leon Kofana. On the other hand, Tahiti was playing its first official match since the 2019 Pacific Games.

Solomon Islands adopted an attacking mentality from the start of the match, with their first scoring chance coming from Micah Lea’alafa after good play by Raphael Lea’i down the right wing. A few minutes later, Lea’i showed his skills to score a beautiful goal to put his side ahead.

Raphael Lea’i (right) celebrating one of his goals against Tahiti – OFC Media

Unfortunately for the Solomon Islands, their lead did not last long, as Alvin Tehau equalized after a confused play inside the box. Both teams had chances to score more goals in the first half. Tahiti had chances through François Hapipi, Matatia Paama, and Roonui Tehau, while Raphael Lea’i saw his beautiful shot being denied by the post in the 33rd minute.

Both teams came back to the second half determined to win. Within the first few minutes, Lea’i scored his second goal of the game after an excellent counter-attack. Solomon Islands continued to have the better of the match, while the Tahitian team was ineffective.

The final blow came on stoppage time when Raphael Lea’i, assisted by Adrian Mara, calmly pushed the ball into the net to seal his hat-trick. At the final whistle, the score was 3-1 in favor of the Solomon Islands. You can watch the goals by clicking here.

In the semifinals, the Solomon Islands are going to face Papua New Guinea, while Tahiti will face New Zealand. Both matches are scheduled for this Sunday.

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