Menapi Puts Solomons Through - Full Report
Former Sydney United striker Commins Menapi will return to the Solomon Islands a national hero, after playing a leading role in securing the Solomon Islands place in the Oceania Nations Cup and World Cup qualifying play-offs.
By Ben Coonan
The beautiful game at its very best. Not one of the 2,978 on hand at Adelaide-s Hindmarsh Stadium will ever forget the absolutely amazing spectacle offered by the Socceroos and the Solomon Islands that ultimately resulted in the Solomons achieving the greatest feat in the history of island soccer. 2-2 it finished, with the brave Solomons coming from 2-1 down to snatch a dramatic equaliser against a ten man Qantas Socceroo side that, at times, seemed out of their depth against one of the great entertainers of the Oceania confederation. Commins Menapi (pictured being chaired by his teammates) was the hero for the visitors, netting two clinical goals that cancelled out Australia-s early second half brace from Tim Cahill and Brett Emerton. Make no mistake; the match belonged to the Solomons. They leave for Honiara tomorrow knowing that the better part of 510,000 locals will be salivating at the return of the new immortals of their country. “They-re ecstatic and so am I,” said a euphoric Solomon Islands coach Alan Gillett after the match when speaking of his delirious team. “Somebody said ‘is this the best thing you-ve ever done?- - yeah it is! “I-ve taken a J-League side to the Emperor-s Cup final in Tokyo, I-ve been involved in the FA Cup in England, I-ve taken a club from the fourth division to first division, but it-s what you do now that counts. “The players are as good as any I-ve ever taken and they-re amateurs. They-ve been terrific, because I haven-t been very nice to them!” The Solomons were clearly the more dominant side of the first half and thoroughly deserved their half time lead. The Socceroos looked a flat impersonation of their usually vibrant selves, with their under 23 themed back four struggling for cohesion under the pressure of the Solomons ambitious front two. In fact, Australia-s first shot did not arrive until the 37th minute, when Emerton latched on to an accurate cross from Alex Brosque. Emerton-s shot was well saved by Solomons custodian Felix Ray and was the only chance of note for the Australians, who were soon to find themselves trailing the motivated Solomons. Former Sydney United striker Menapi-s left foot blast left Qantas Socceroo ‘keeper Zeljko Kalac with no chance, after Partick Thistle defender Adrian Madaschi showed callousness when attempting to clear a seemingly harmless long ball from the Solomons defence. At 1-0, the Solomons were already accelerating plans for a national day of celebration. Forty-five minutes later, those plans were concrete. History will show that the Solomons clung on to their advantage to charge over the line and draw with the Socceroos in what was, undoubtedly, the greatest result in the history of Solomon Islands football. The Socceroos, having made all three possible changes at the break, started the second half just as the Adelaide crowd had hoped and within seven minutes had stolen the lead. Cahill was first to strike for the home side, dissonantly netting the leveller after a typically rugged run of his pierced the Solomons defence. Two minutes later and the Socceroos had seemingly snatched the Solomons World Cup aspirations in a flash, when Emerton converted one of a number of quality crosses from Ahmad Elrich. The Blackburn Rovers winger was well positioned to ease home Elrich-s pinpoint pass and from here, it seemed as though Australia would stroll home for their fifth consecutive win. Of course, this was not to be the case. Farina-s men were quickly on the back foot when Hearts defender Patrick Kisnorbo was sent from the field after collecting his second caution from Spanish referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez. Kisnorbo-s dismissal forced a reshuffle of the Qantas Socceroo line-up, with substitute Simon Colosimo reverting to a central defensive role, pushing Emerton to right back. To the Solomon-s credit, they capitalized on their numerical advantage and drew level once more with fifteen minutes remaining. Menapi showered himself in glory once more when he slammed home a fierce left foot drive from ten metres out that again left Kalac with no option but to watch and admire. Needless to say, the Solomons bench was in raptures and the hearts of the few New Zealanders on hand sunk like stones. 2-2 it remained and the Solomon Islands became the first country outside of the Tasman to claim an OFC Nations Cup final berth in the modern era. Qantas Socceroo coach Farina was not altogether displeased with the performance of his team, despite the score line suggesting an embarrassing day at the office. “Look, the objective has been achieved, we came here to beat New Zealand and win the tournament and we-ve done that,” said a philosophical Farina at the post match press conference. “I would have preferred a better score line. “I-ve been saying to the lads all week about complacency, irrespective of who you-re playing, we came up against a team tonight where, really, it was their World Cup final.” The 2-2 draw, the only ever Qantas Socceroo result other than a win against island opposition outside of a pair of losses to Fiji does not affect Australia-s progression to the next stage, but does give Farina some concerns coming into the Socceroos next international fixtures. “I expect more from our lads and I let them know that at half time,” said Farina. “We probably came out in the second half with a much better attitude, a lot more discipline and then, Patty Kisnorbo gets sent off, so they were still in the game. “We got the result, we-re through, simple as that.” Australia: 18. Zeljko Kalac (gk), 2. Jade North, 7. Brett Emerton, 8. Josip Skoko, 9. John Aloisi, 10. Tim Cahill, 12. Alex Brosque (21. Ahmad Elrich 45-), 14. Patrick Kisnorbo, 16. David Tarka (4. Simon Colosimo 45-), 19. Max Vieri (15. Mile Sterjovski 45-), 20. Adrian Madaschi Bookings: Kisnorbo 42-, Kisnorbo RC 56- Goals: Cahill 50-, Emerton 52- Solomon Islands: 1. Felix Ray (gk), 2. Leslie Leo, 3. Mahlon Houkarawa, 6. Nelson Sale, 7. Alick Maemae, 10. Batram Suri, 11. Commins Menapi, 14. Jack Samani (16. Stanley Waita 63-), 18. Henry Fa-arodo, 19. Paul Kakai (13. George Lui 63-), 21. George Suri Bookings: Menapi 16-, Lui 89- Goals: Menapi 43-, 75- Referee: Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez (Spain)