Solomon Islands Edge Papua New Guinea in Critical World Cup Qualifier
Timothy Bake runs past a Kapuls defender | OFC Media

Solomon Islands Edge Papua New Guinea in Critical World Cup Qualifier

Micah Leaalafa's seventy-fifth minute winner lifts the Solomon Islands to a 3-2 win over Papua New Guinea.

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After losing their 2-0 lead that was built in the first half, the Solomon Islands regained momentum and defeated Papua New Guinea by a score of 3-2. The result propelled the Solomons to be tied with current Group B leaders Tahiti, who are only ahead on goal difference. 

The Solomon Islands control the first half

Solomon Island fans rejoice as they are in the driver's seat to win Group B | OFC Media
Solomon Island fans rejoice as they are in the driver's seat to win Group B | OFC Media

Playing in front of a packed Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, the Solomon Islands' fans made their presence heard. Chants of "Go Solo Go" helped the Bonitos pin Papua New Guinea early on. 

After Jerry Donga raced past the defense, his ball struck the crossbar. This wouldn't be the only chance for the Solomons as four minutes later Atkin Kaua fired a low shot past the Kapuls' keeper Ronald Warisan to put the home side up 1-0. 

Donga would yet again be involved in another goal. This time he sent a cross to the Solomon Islands' captain Benji Totori who made no mistake and extended their lead to 2-0. 

Despite Donga being a consistent issue for the Kapuls' defense, the score remained 2-0 in favor of the Solomon Islands. 

Kapuls claw back, but it's not enough

Papua New Guinea wasted no time in their effort to claw their way back into the match. Their captain Michael Foster brought one back after being the first to connect with a corner. The traveling supporters rejoiced as it was game on in Honiara. 

The pressure only kept building and culminated when Raymond Gunemba and Patrick Aisa found themselves in a two on one situation with the Solomon keeper. Gunemba unselfishly played it off to Aisa who would equalize it. 

Within a span of five minutes the Solomon Islands made all three of their changes - one of which saw captain Totori off for James Naka

On top of the humidity starting to take its toll on the tiring legs of both sides, once the Kapuls got their equalizer it seemed they were contempt with taking a draw back to Port Moresby. The home side had other ideas. 

Micah Lea'alafa rounded the Papua New Guinea keeper after a brilliant ball from the subtitute Naka, regaining the lead for the Bonitos. 

The match would end 3-2 in favor of the Solomon Islands. 

Solomon Islands manager Felipe Vega Arango Alonso felt his side deserved the win, despite the away side showing their strength. He had to remind his side at the break to keep their feet on the gas. 

"As I said yesterday, I knew it was going to be a very tough game. To be honest with you, it would have been really unfair if we didn’t win this match because in the first 45 minutes we played wonderful football," said Vega Arango.

"We knew the game wasn’t over and that’s what I told them in the locker room," continued Vega Arango.

Flemming Serritslev, coach for Papua New Guinea, expressed that although his side played well in the second half, the first half performance was too poor and gave the home side the win. 

"Of course I’m disappointed because we came here to win, but we also have to admit that our first half was too bad – we actually lost the game in the first half," said Serritslev.

Serritslev noted that he believes his side turned it off after their equalizer. "I’m very satisfied with the way our players did in the second half, unfortunately when it was two-two, it was as if they were satisfied with the result and figured they’d go out to beat them in Port Moresby," said the Papua New Guinea manager.

What does this mean for the rest of the Oceania qualifiers?

Before the match kicked off, the Group B leaders were Tahiti with six points. The darlings of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, however, have already played all four matches. One of which they were awarded a 3-0 win over the Solomon Islands due to the Solomons fielding an ineligible player. 

Both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea were on three points, but with the Solomon win they are level with Tahiti. 

There will be one more game in Group B play as Papua New Guinea will host the Solomons on June 13 in a rematch of the dramatic duel. The Solomons need at least a draw to advance to the Oceania play-off, while Papua New Guinea need to win by at least five goals to jump both the Solomons and Tahiti. 

Group A has already been decided as New Zealand were (as expected) given the birth to the play-off. 

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