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New Zealand and Fiji head for Olympic soccer showdown in Pacific Games 2015

PORT MORESBY - After a day of dramas and downpours, the New Zealand All-Whites and Fiji are the last teams standing in the Olympic soccer competition being played out at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby.

Fiji was the first to make it through to the decider, defeating the host nation 3-1 in front of passionate local crowd.

And yet it had all started so well for PNG, as the players exploded out of the blocks and peppered the Fijian goal in a frantic opening salvo.

But then carried away by the excitement of it all perhaps, the PNG defence switched off, and the man with the fabulous name, Napolioni Qasevakatini, took advantage to sneak through and score the opening goal.

Right on cue, the Port Moresby sun disappeared behind the clouds, and the rain came down to further dampen local spirits.

PNG's performance became ever more frantic, but Fiji responded in equally reckless fashion, giving away a penalty kick.

The home fans held their breath, and from my bird's eye view in the commentary box, Tommy Semmy looked nervous.

But what do I know, as the man with 13 on his back converted the kick with ease.

No luck required.

Now the crowd was alive again, willing PNG on to the Olympic qualifying final, and who knows maybe the trip of a lifetime to Rio in 2016.

But Fiji hadn't read the script, and Qasevakatini was writing his own.

On the stroke of half time he popped up for his second goal Fiji regained the lead and PNG hearts sank.

In the commentary box there were two things on our mind at the break: how to keep dry and what could PNG do to keep their Olympic dream alive?

The second half began in similar fashion to the first, only this time it was Fiji creating a clutch of chances that all went begging. But then Qasevakatini took advantage of some hesitant goal-keeping to bag his third.

Now there was an air of resignation around the ground, as the PNG voices fell silent, with the only noise coming from a boisterous Fijian contingent camped on the half-way line.

Try as they might, PNG couldn't find a way back and at the final whistle some of their players collapsed in disappointment as the Olympic dream was snatched away from them.

For Fiji on the other hand, their remarkable journey continues, first the under 20 World Cup, and now just one win away from taking part in the biggest event of all — the Olympic Games.

Standing in Fiji's way are the New Zealanders but for the first 45 minutes of their semi-final, a fairy tale result for Vanuatu looked more than possible.

They matched their opponents throughout, putting in brave clearances at the back, and creating clear-cut chances going forward, led by their inspirational captain Brian Kaltack.

Destined for trials in Europe, the eldest of the three Kaltack brothers in the team can't have done his chances of a lucrative club contract any harm.

As for the All-Whites, the players looked confused, and their coach Anthony Hudson looked concerned as the teams went in at half-time all square, with no goals to either side.

On the commentary gantry again the question was how best to keep dry as the rain continued to fall.

And the second question, what was wrong with New Zealand? Would coach Hudson have to get tough with his players?

Whatever he said it worked because, within three minutes of the restart, the young All-Whites were ahead.

The player with a name that reminds me of a comedy show, Monty Patterson, took advantage of confusion in the Vanuatu defence at a corner.

Surprisingly, despite their polished first-half performance, Vanuatu took the goal hard, their body language changed, and New Zealand visibly grew in stature.

Now they were starting to justify their standing as tournament favourites, and confirmed it eight minutes later when a precision header from Billy Tuiloma, who plays his club football in France, made it 2-0.

The expression that came to mind was that Vanuatu had the stuffing knocked out of them.

All their hard work during the first 45 minutes undone after barely 10 second-half minutes.

Try as they might Vanuatu couldn't find a way back, and the gloom amongst the players was reflected as the gloom overhead worsened.

In fact it was getting darker and darker, to the point where normally the flood lights would've come on.

But there are no lights at the Bisini complex, so in the commentary box we wondered if torches might be called for!

Then a glimmer of light for Vanuatu, a golden chance for substitute Dalong Damalip to make a name for himself.

For a second it appeared the ball was heading for the back of the net, but to Demalip's obvious disappointment it flashed centimetres wide of the post and the chance of a grandstand finish was lost.

So in the end the boys from the land of the long white cloud held sway over their spirited Pacific neighbours, and it is they who will line up against Fiji in the final.

Congratulations to both teams on serving up an engrossing encounter, so much so that, in the commentary box, it was only when we stood up to leave that we realized we were sitting in puddles, formed by the rainwater that had been trickling down our backs for much of the game. [ABC]


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