Solomon Islands U19 – Match Report Vs. New Zealand U19 (14/09/2022)

New Zealand defeated the Solomon Islands 6-0 in the OFC-U19 championship. Both teams had romped to easy victories in their first two group matches and I wanted to see if the stand-out players from those games could show the same qualities against opposition that was more on their level. Obviously, in the case of New Zealand, the answer was “yes.” The game was relatively even until about the 60th-minute mark when the superior conditioning of the Kiwis allowed them to pour on the goals. 

Now, one might question how worthwhile it is to pay attention to football in Oceania. It is true that in general, the level is low, especially in the Pacific Islands. These countries are poor and have small populations which is not a recipe for success on the world footballing stage. But as the success of players like Roy Krishna and David Browne demonstrates, there is talent to be found there. Furthermore, it often takes quite some time for talented players from Oceania to be given a chance. The aforementioned Krishna did not get a professional opportunity until his age 26 season when an injury crisis forced the Wellington Phoenix to take a flyer on him. He then went on to score 51 goals for the club and win the Johnny Warren medal for the best A-League player. So if clubs are proactive and willing to take a chance on a deserving player then there is the potential to strike gold. Anyway, let’s get into the players. 

Paul Francis

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: Solomon Islands
  • Age: 18 
  • Date of birth: 05/09/2003
  • Current club: Waneagu 
  • Position: Winger
  • Preferred foot: Left

Paul Francis played as a winger in this match. He showed some flashes of real skill but struggled to turn those flashes into chances from open play. Francis is a really strong dribbler. His footwork is outstanding, no doubt a result of Futsal playing such a big part in the Solomon Islands’ development system.

One moment that particularly stood out was when he beat Finn Surman, a fully-fledged A-League player, with a ball roll move that he has pulled off a lot in this tournament. His first touch is also really good, which is especially noteworthy because the quality of the pitch was low and the bounces were giving a lot of players problems. But he was not able to turn this dribbling skill into shots. This was not entirely his fault, he was often trying to dribble against several players all on his own and that is not easy for anyone. But he also does not have the best physical traits. He is very thin and only has average speed. This made it difficult for him to make the most of the small amount of space he did get. His passing also left something to be desired, though it does have to be understood that he was under a lot of pressure and the quality of the field played a factor.

Francis took corners for the Solomon Islands and his delivery was really good. He managed two shot assists and at one point forced Henry Gray in the New Zealand goal to make an awkward save directly from a corner. He also had one fabulous gilt-edged cross from open play that somehow nobody got on the end of. 

Rating – A2

I am not confident in predicting stardom but I think there might be something there. Francis’ exact level is difficult to judge at this point because I have only seen him in games where his team was much stronger or much weaker than the opposition. Still, he scored more goals against the Cook Islands and American Samoa than any of the New Zealand wingers despite having much weaker teammates (as evidenced by the scoreline in this game) and he did show some flashes of skill in this match. I would be keen to see him in the New Zealand National League, where the playing field is a bit more level. But since the NZNL is officially amateur that’s not necessarily an easy or desirable transition to make in situations. 

Rocky Junior

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: Solomon Islands
  • Age: 18
  • Date of birth: 26/10/2003
  • Current club: Honiara City
  • Position: Striker
  • Preferred foot: Right

Rocky Junior played as the Solomon Islands’ centre-forward in this match. One thing that stood out about him was his pressing ability. He was really good at putting the New Zealand centre-backs in difficult spots. He probably came closest to scoring a goal for his side when he stripped the ball off of a New Zealand defender and was through on goal but did not have the pace to get a shot off.

He did seem to be quite quick when closing down players earlier in the match, and he did a lot of thankless running, so it’s possible he was just out of energy. Conditioning seemed to be a bit of a problem for the Solomon Islands team in general. There were also several times when he caught New Zealand defenders in tight corners but nothing ever quite materialized from those situations. In general, Rocky struggled with the physicality of the New Zealand centre-backs, all of whom were much larger than him. The Solomon Islands played a very direct style but I don’t think he ever won a header.

Rocky did show a bit of skill in tight spaces and was able to win a couple of fouls with quick changes of direction. But that was about the extent of his offensive contribution. In his first two games of the tournament, it seemed like Rocky had some play-making ability and did a good job of playing in wingers for goals. But against New Zealand, he just wasn’t quite quick enough with the ball to pull those moves off. 

Rating – B1

Rocky is genuinely a very good presser and is not totally unskilled. But ultimately I don’t think there’s quite enough there for professional teams to take a chance on him at this stage. 

Cyril Enotaru

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: Solomon Islands
  • Age: 18
  • Date of Birth: 02/12/2003
  • Current Club: Wanegu 
  • Position: Defensive midfielder
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Cyril Enotaru played as a defensive midfielder in this match. In the first two matches, he did a good job, albeit against poor opposition, of tidying up loose balls and pushing the ball back forward to continue the wave of Solomon Island attacks. But against New Zealand, he was not able to have the same level of effectiveness. He still was able to make a lot of defensive plays but he was not quite the brick wall he was able to be against weaker opposition.

He was generally well positioned to make interventions and he was good at harassing players to blunt their offensive progress. But, like many of his teammates, he had some difficulty with the increase in the speed of play. Particularly his passing game did not really translate against the more difficult opponents. He was not able to play progressive passes under pressure and as the game went on he seemed to lose confidence in his ability to play the ball forward. He did almost split the New Zealand defence at one point, only being denied by a last-second sliding intervention, so he is not totally bereft of passing skill. But he could not do it consistently under pressure. He is not the biggest player, physically, but he does have good enough speed to cover a fair amount of ground. That said there were one or two times when a New Zealand player blew right past him with a burst of speed. 

Rating – B1

Enotaru is a pretty good defender but I am not sure he is quite good enough of a defender to make up for his limitations under pressure. 

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