Solomon Islands upbeat on chances of beating the All Whites in World Cup qualifying

Solomon Islands

It was 12 years ago that Henry Fa'arodo last found himself this close to a World Cup.

As a 22-year-old, he played for the Solomon Islands in a home-and-away tie against Australia, and in the second leg he scored a goal, one of 16 he has managed in 56 appearances for his national team.

Australia scored nine of them, however, and advanced to face Uruguay in an intercontinental playoff, which they won on penalties, and at the World Cup itself, in Germany in 2006, they made the round of 16 before losing to Italy.

Now, Fa'arodo is 34, and captain of his country's national team, who are in the same place once more, but with Australia gone to the Asian confederation, it is the All Whites who are their opposition - on Friday at QBE Stadium in Auckland and next Tuesday in Honiara.

Where was New Zealand 12 years ago? Counting the cost of a shock loss to Vanuatu at the 2004 Oceania Nations Cup, which allowed the Solomon Islands to finish a point above them in second, thanks to their own shock result - an impressive draw with Australia.

"It has been 12 years, but it feels like last year, so time does fly," said Fa'arodo on Thursday.

"Compared to then, for us, the difference would be we have gone under [coach] Felipe's wing, and he has introduced a more professional setup, which is something we didn't have 12 years ago.

"This is progress which is good for football in the Solomon Islands, and I think there is more to come."

Fa'arodo believes his side have a better chance of advancing to the intercontinental playoff now than they did then, even if only slightly.

"We've just got to be positive," he said.

"This is a very good opportunity for us, for the Solomon Islands, and for football in the Solomons, and being positive about this occasion is something that will drive us.

"This is a chance for us to step up and be on the world stage."

The Solomon Islands are a team of amateur players, and the All Whites are a team of professionals, and while that disparity creates a huge gap between the two sides, Fa'arodo believes it can also help spur his men on.

"We've come into this game knowing the gap. Felipe always stresses to us that we're amateur players coming into a professional setup, and we know the gap between them.

"It motivates us. It's something we are looking forward to, and it sets a standard for us, so we can see where we are. It's a great chance, especially for the young players, to go out there and express themselves."

Felipe Vega-Arango Alonso, the Solomon Islands' Spanish coach, has been in charge for less than six months, and he is under no illusions about the size of the task in front of his men on Friday - the Solomon Islands have played the All Whites 10 times over the years, losing nine times and drawing once.

But as they try to pull off the mother of all upsets, Alonso has them as prepared as they possibly can be.

"You have to have a game plan, and we have a game plan based on us and on them, on the rival. In this case, because we know they are a strong side, we have to have a game plan based on their strengths and how to combat that.

"My goal is for them not to have many chances, and if we accomplish that, I'll be happy."

While he knows firmly where his team stands, Alonso did allow himself to seize a little bit of hope on the eve of the first leg.

"In life, anything can happen," he said.

"In football, sometimes anything can happen, sometimes not.

"I think if we play Spain [on Friday], we have no chance.

"If we play New Zealand, I believe we have more chance than against Spain."


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