Fiji FA drops Ronil Lal in favour of foreign coach heading to U-20 FIFA World Cup

Last January 11th we learned that the Argentine Rodolfo Zapata will be the head coach of the Fijian national team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, a normal news until then if the position had not already been held by Ronil Lal, who was the man who led Fiji to secure a spot for the second time in a FIFA tournament – Lal was the head coach in Tahiti for the Junior Bula Boys, where he guided the team to the final match, confirming a spot in the U-20 FIFA World Cup.

Ronil Lal – Fiji FA Media

Ronil Lal is a very well known coach in Fiji; he is a multi-champion with Labasa, in 2019 he achieved the incredible feat of winning three tournaments in the same year winning the Battle of Giants, the Interdistrict Championship and the Champions vs Champions Series. Lal, an OFC Senior B Licence holder, stepped down from Labasa coaching-role in 2021 citing personal problems as he and his family were hit by Tropical Cyclone Ana –
โ€œI need to value my family and give them the time plus letโ€™s see how long it takes but Iโ€™ll be back
“, said Lal to a local newspaper. He definitely he got back with a massive feat qualifying Fiji for a major international tournament.

In 2014, the first time Fiji qualified for the tournament, the same happened: Ravinesh Kumar led the team to win the OFC U-19 Tournament held in Suva and later Australian football legend Frank Farina was appointed as the head coach for the U-20 World Cup played in New Zealand. But, at that moment, Farina was already in a role in Fiji FA – as technical advisor -, different from what happened this time. Farina was the head coach of Australia national team for seven years, winning a number of OFC Nations Cup editions and also coaching the team at FIFA Confederations Cup.

Zapata, the new head coach for Fiji U-20 side, is also an experienced coach – but certainly is still to get to know the reality of football in Oceania – and he will not have so much time to do so as the FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Indonesia already starts in May. His most important achievement was guiding Township Rollers from Botswana, Africa, to a national title. He also coached in Kenya, South Africa and United States.

The reaction on Zapata’s appoitment was a ‘mix of emotions’ in the passionated football community in Fiji. Some fans got excited to see an Argentinian to coach Fiji in the next U-20 World Cup, but the majority of the fans seemed a bit dissapointed with the departure of Lal from the head coach position after his succesful stint last year.

It is still unknown wheter Lal will be part of the staff of Zapata in next months heading for the FIFA tournament, but it can be already confirmed that he is not going to be the guidor of this young team at their peak.

OFC U-17 Championship: Fiji and New Zealand play decisive semifinal

Fiji and New Zealand will meet at 7 pm local time on January 25th in Suva, the Fijian capital. Both teams have confirmed their favouritism and advanced to the semifinal of the tournament.

FIJI VS COOK ISLANDS

Fiji started the game controlling possession as expected, but the lack of creativity not allowed the hosts to get goalscoring chances.

The 1-0 lead came only in first-half stoppage time when Cook Islands’ goalkeeper failed to clear Watisoni Batirerega shot and Petero Maivalenisau scored the first goal of the match taking the rebound already in the penalty box.

Fijian players celebrating the first goal – OFC Media

At the start of the second half Fiji seemed determined to settle the match, until in the 50th minute Delon Shankar took a free-kick, the ball hit the post and came back to Dwayne Matapo who unfortunately ended up scoring an own goal.

In the 90th minute Petero Maivalenisau scored again with a header to give final numbers to the score. Fiji will be looking to play in the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in their history – but for that they will need to win the semifinal match.

NEW ZEALAND VS VANUATU

New Zealand and Vanuatu match was a fierce duel; the Kiwis were expected to win this game, but the match was indeed very hard for them.

New Zealand struggled to break through the defensive lines of Vanuatu, who had a good performance from goalkeeper Joseph Nakou and also from their defense line.

Vanuatu had a clear chance on Augustine Chilia shot in an one-on-one situation after a counter-attack move led by Jimmy Moso. At the 40th minute Vanuatu had another chance to score with an excellent move by Romain Luake who dribbled three defenders but finished over the goal.

In the second half the situation did not change. New Zealand played very slow and as a result they did not create any danger to the Vanuatu goal.

Things seemed to change when Yan Chilia was red carded after a brawl with New Zealand’s Niko Bruce. New Zealand now had one more man in the pitch now a total control of the match. The goalkeeper Nakou had to make a series of interventions, but New Zealand still struggled to create real chances.

New Zealand’s winning goal only came in the 92th minute, when Luke Supyk took a penalty that himself was awarded after being fouled by goalkeeper Joseph Nakou.

New Zealand players celebrating the goal – OFC Media

For Vanuatu the tournament has ended; they could had player better football in their previous matches, but they put up a great fight against New Zealand showing that this young team has a lot of potential to be explored. The work of Brazilian Emerson Alcantara coach also can be praised especially from these 90 minutes played against New Zealand.

New Zealand now only needs to beat Fiji, the hosts, to confirm a spot in Peru’s U-17 World Cup – but certainly they will need to play better football to surpass the talented Fijian team.

Hekari vs Lae City: once again the two Papua New Guinean giants are finalists of National League

The PNG National Soccer League 2022 is having its final moments in early 2023; the two semifinal matches were played this Saturday (21th Jan) in Port Moresby and Lae. The favourites to be present in the final match made no mistake and granted their spot inthe deciding encounter.

In a match marked terrible moments after the final match at PNG Football Stadium in Port Moresby, Hekari United surpassed Gulf Komara with two quick goals in the second half: the talented midfielder Yagi Yasasa opened the scoreline in favour of the David Muta-coached side; Oberth Simon finished the deal for Hekari to confirm their 2-0 win and seal their place in the final match once again. Komara was a harsh opponent for the former OFC Champions League winners as they counted on many important players such as Ishmael Pole, Nigel Dabinyaba and Michael Foster. The team is coached by former Kapuls first choice goalkeeper David Aua.

Oberth Simon celebrates his goal – PNGFA Media

At Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, the national champions Lae City knew they would need a lot of work to go past the Lae Natives FC’s goalkeeper Jordan Tobem. Still in the first half, the winger Elijah Kamak scored the first in favour of the team coached by Bob Morris.

Lae City held the lead at the break for the first half and needed to work hard in the final 45 minutes; but the national powerhouse was able to deal with the danger and finish the match thanks to a goal scored by Kapuls midfielder Obert Bika. As of Port Moresby, the 2-0 result repeated itself in Lae in favour of Lae City FC.

Lae City players celebrate one oftheir goals – Lae City FC Media

The final match will be played in Port Moresby as stated by PNG Football Association; the decisive encounter of the season is set to be played next weekend.

Laveni Vaka: the greatest women’s football talent of the South Pacific

Tonga is a kingdom in the South Pacific made up of 177 islands of which only 36 are inhabited by just over 106,000 people. With rugby being the most traditional sport, football has always taken a back seat -making it difficulty of revealing great talent in the sport.

The scenario has been changing a bit and Laveni Vaka is an excelent example of this. The 21-year-old defender plays college football in the United States and represented Tonga at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in Fiji last July.

In the quarterfinals she was named the best player of the match against Papua New Guinea after providing two assists for her twin-sister Daviana to score and then making a beautiful move for Jazmine Loto’aniu to score the second goal. Tonga eventually went out on penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw after extra time, with Laveni converting her spot-kick – but the defeat did not harm her great performance in the match and in the tournament.

Laveni Vaka vs Cook Islands – OFC Media

After representing Tonga for the second time in the Nations Cup, Laveni Vaka returned to the US for the season with BYU Soccer where her team finished the year with 11 wins, three losses and seven draws – BYU Soccer was eliminated by the UNC Tar Heels in the NCAA regional semifinal after a 3-2 loss.

Laveni played all 21 games for BYU in the season tallying 1,834 minutes and one assist. At the end of the season she was named to the NCAA All-West Region First Team and the All-WCC First Team – Laveni even took the WCC 2022 Defender of the Year award!

The Oceania Football Center congratulates Laveni Vaka for her achievements in 2022! It is expected she will represent Tonga again at the Pacific Games in Honiara this year.

Fetuao Belcher: a rising Samoan football star in New Zealand

Fetauo Bechler is one of the great hopes of Samoan football in the coming years, he was a starter for Napier City Rovers in New Zealand’s Central League and the National League in 2022, and also represented Samoa in the OFC U-19 Championship. The 19-year-old defender spoke to Oceania Football Center about his season and his views about the development of Samoan football.

Fetuao Belcher in Napier City colours – Hawke’s Bay App

How was your experience to be a regular starter in a traditional team of New Zealand?

It was good for my confidence by consistently starting I felt an increase in my improvement from when I first started with the club. I became very comfortable with starting every week and learned a lot from teammates. Also I had lots to analysing when looking back in each game.

How was to play the National League against the top players of New Zealand?

It was a goal as a team to make the National League, so it was a positive step in our season and it was also a level higher so it really challenged me in particular. I definitely would see this as another future goal, but overall a great way to end a season in my opinion.

Do you think Samoa could have advanced further in the OFC U-19 Championship last year?

I think that we definitely could have progressed further, itโ€™s just a shame that we hadnโ€™t had much time together as a team and our chemistry between players made it hard to understand tactics. But I think that definitely had the potential to go much further than we ended up.

Do you intend to keep representing Samoa internationally?

Playing for Samoa internationally has been the best experiences Iโ€™ve had without a doubt, so I intend on representing Samoa again in the near future.

Are the Pacific Games this year a possibility for you to represent them?

Yes, itโ€™s definitely a possibility that I would be proud to represent them in.

How do you see the football development in Samoa? Do you see it improving in the past years?

I definitely felt like the staff and coaching made the whole experience more professional than previous experiences. Although my experience when I first played for Samoa will be second to none; that I hope to experience in the future; I got to embrace my culture off the field, creating a special bond with every player off the pitch, ultimately fueling everyone to work hard for each other on the field. Although based off my last Samoan experience, in terms of tactics and development for Samoan Football, I think there will be a significant improvement.

The Oceania Football Center thanks Fetauo Bechler for the interview and wishes him success in the course of his career.

U-17 OFC Championship: Francophone clash will make one of the semifinals

New Caledonia and Tahiti confirmed their favouritism and advanced to the semifinals of the U-17 OFC Championship after beating Samoa and Tonga respectively. It will be the first time they will face each other for a place in a FIFA Youth Tournament.

NEW CALEDONIA VS SAMOA

New Caledonia, favourites prior the start the game, took the lead early in the 13th minute after Antony Levy’s free-kick was headed in by Jean-Philippe Angexetine for the Cagous‘ first goal.

Samoa’s response came quickly in the 16th minute as Pharrell Trainor played a left-footed drive down the left, linking up with Ethelbert Edward and coming out in front of the goalkeeper but the shot went wide.

In the 39th minute the Cagous again had another chance to score, Gregory Diko hit, the goalkeeper hit back and Jean-Philippe Angexetine free on the rebound already in the penalty box shot wide.

In the 45th minute New Caledonia increased the score; Jean-Yves Saiko got the ball, attacked the area and was awarded a penalty. Wonderkid Nolhann Alebate took the penalty and converted for the Cagous to go into the break with a comfortable 2-0 lead.

Nolhann Alebate celebrating the goal – OFC Media

In the second half Samoa had no choice but to put pressure on New Caledonia to try to slow down and consequently then try to tie the match. Early in the second half things got more favourable for the Samoans when Bayron Gohoupe received his second yellow card and was sent off.

In the 59th minutes Pharrell Trainor – Samoa’s best player in the tournament – almost scored when he shot from outside the box and the ball hit the post.

Playing with almost 10-men up front, the Samoans consequently left more space, at the backline and the final blow came in the 88th minute when Nolhann Alebate found Jean-Yves Saiko after a lovely pass, the No. 25 took the Samoan goalkeeper off his line and scored the third.

There was still time for Iwatro Hmuine to score another goal for New Caledonia from the penalty spot in injury time.

TAHITI VS TONGA

Tahiti, as it was against Cook Islands, showed no mercy to an opponent who was technically inferior; they set their pace from the start of the match to the end of the match.

In the 18th minute they opened the scoring with Dylan Hutia, who received a good pass from Ariiheivarau Tama. 32nd minute the top scorer Titouan Guillemant scored his third goal in the OFC U-17 Championship after a terrible mistake by the Tonga goalkeeper – Siosiua Moimoi.

Dylan Hutia celebrating the goal – OFC Media

Tahiti came back into the second half with a lot of pressure on the Tongan team to settle the match once and for all, forcing goalkeeper Siosiua Moimoi to make two spectacular saves to avoid an even greater loss.

But in the 68th minute Titouan Guillemant found Keanan Faure in the penalty area to score Tahiti’s third goal. In the 79th minute Titouan Guillemant found a teammate in the box, and this time it was Teurerearii Vonbalou who scored the fourth for Tahiti.

In the 94th minute Titouan Guillemant himself scored to complete Tahiti’s 5-0 win – the Tefana striker is now tied with Pharrell Trainor (Samoa), Luke Flowerdew and Luke Supyk (New Zealand) as the top scorers of the OFC U-17 Championship.

Tahiti and New Caledonia will face each other on the 21st at 4 pm local time to decide which of the two nations will qualify for the U17 FIFA World Cup this year in Peru.

TERRIFYING: Violence after semifinal match of PNG National Soccer League

Unfortunately, the urgent report Oceania Football Center has for the Pacific football community is very serious and sad: after reports, it is confirmed thre was a pitch invasion in Port Moresby’s PNG Football Stadium after the completion of the match between Gulf Komara and Hekari United, a semifinal match of the PNG National Soccer League.

WATCH THE VIDEOS OF THE PITCH INVASION

The match ended up in a 2-0 victory of Hekari, but unfortunately the spotlight were on the actions just after the final whistle. Oceania Football Center is still going to publicate a full review of both semifinals of the national league.

Pitch Invasion in PNG Football Stadium

It is reported a number of fans invaded the field of play and started to fight each other. “There was no Security at the Gates. I stood at the Gate for 10 minutes and watch drunkards walk in with no checks or Bag search! Anyone present today will confirm. What a fail competition!“, said a football fan that was in the stadium and witnessed all the actions. It is also reported the fight took around 5-10 minutes until police made the fans run away of the field of the play.

You can watch the videos Oceania Football Center collected by clicking here. New reports and details can be added at any time due the investigations and appurations come in.

Dennis Ifunaoa focused on Solomon Warriors despite offers from overseas

One of the most celebrated players from Solomon Islands football, the attacking midfielder Dennis Ifunaoa, is eager to achieve sucess in the in the Telekom S-League 2022/23 with his team, Solomon Warriors – that is set to restart very soon. The now 31-year-old player stated his wishes for the upcoming games: “There are still eight games to finish the season. We (Solomon Warriors) are looking forward to win the league, that’s our aim. First we win the league, then the O-League playoffs” said Ifunaoa.

Ifunaoa, that also played in Papua New Guinea and Fiji, is one of the pillars of the Solomon Warriors – team that is at the top of the table in the Telekom S-League. The Solomon Islands international for five times said he received offers from overseas: “I got a few offers to play abroad recently“, he stated. Ifunaona made a lot of success in Fiji when playing for Labasa, he even scored a fantastic goal to win the Inter-District Championship for them back in 2019 against Suva. “They were the first to call me“, said Ifunaoa when asked if Labasa wanted his services back for the upcoming season in 2023.

Dennis Ifunaoa – SIFF Media

But the player insisted in his decision: “Everything is still to be decided. Focus now is on winning the league. Anything else maybe after the OFC Champions League” confirmed Ifunaoa.

The last time Solomon Warriors – and Ifunaoa – won the Telekom S-League was back in the 2019/20 season. The 2020 OFC Champions League was the last occasion that the team took part, Ifunaoa even scored in that edition that was forced to an early end due COVID-19 pandemics.

Emmanuel Airem keen to return to action after serious knee injury

The current national champions of Papua New Guinea are in contention to defend their glory again; Lae City FC will take on Lae Natives FC this weekend (21st Jan) in the semifinal of the National Soccer League at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium, in Lae. The team commanded by Bob Morris are the clear favourites to proceed, but they will certainly miss one of their most important players: Emmanuel Airem. The wing-back that is know for his strength will not take the pรญtch in the semifinal nor the final match if Lae City advances: “I’m injured, I didn’t play the whole season“, said Airem. The player explained what made him to be off for a so long period: “I twisted my knee after we came back from Qatar in WC Qualifiers, so I just went on my rehab, but slowly I am recovering“, said the player.

Airem in Lae City colours – PNGFA Media

I made an appointment with one high performance physio here in Lae. The situation is not painful, but a little bit. Still progressing with my rehab“, mentioned the Kapuls member. But the Papua New Guinean fans might be happy with the news, as Airem said he already return to pitch actions and aims to make his comeback very soon: “Very soon I am returning; It was a serious injury, but just got back on the pitch one week from now with the team during some light sessions“, said the player.

There is not a fixed date for the return to competitive football for Airem, but he is hopeful that it might in a great stage: “Hopefully if Lae City qualifies for the OFC Champions League I can make my comeback in this tournament“, he said.

The now 28-year-old player has plenty of experience in the O-League; he had played it for Madang FC and also with Lae City. Airem was a key figure in the national league success of Lae City and was a regular starter for PNG National Team in the FIFA 2020 World Cup Qualifying Tournament.

Solomon Islands: Telekom S-League is back to action

The most important football league of the Solomon Islands will return to action this weekend – 21st and 22nd Jan – after a postponement in the previous week. The reason for the delay was a paperwork issue between the Solomon Islands Football Federation and the Honiara City Council, body that administrates the national stadium Lawson Tama where the league is held.

According the local media, an agreement is not yet confirmed between both parties, but the fixtures for the weekend were announced by SIFF indicating the national league is set to restart. “The TSL competition is supposed to resume this week. At the moment the TSL board and HCC are still on the negotiation table to Lawson Tama for matches. Hopefully tomorrow (today) morning we will make an official announcement. We will kick off with fixtures for January 21st and 22nd“, said competition manager Gerald Oiaka to Sun Sports. Oiaka also confirmed new details for the remainder of the season: “Our competition will complete on February 16th and then we should have the playoffs for the OFC Champions League on the 22 nd and the 25th” he said.

Match between Waneagu United and Henderson Eels for the S-League – SIFF Media

Three matches are going to be played on Saturday: FC Isabel United vs Marist FC, Waneagu United vs Real Kakamora and Kula FC vs Kossa FC. More three matches will be played on Sunday: Southern United vs Honiara City, Central Coast vs Solomon Warriors and Laugu United vs Henderson Eels.

Solomon Warriors currently lead the national league after 14 matches with 37 points; they are followed by Henderson Eels with 32 points and Kossa FC with 29.