Australia may be leaving the OFC for the might of Asia, but there is no doubt that the football loving public of these islands will miss the visits of the Socceroos.
A 15,000 strong crowd, in the extremely humid setting of Lawson Tama Stadium, and hundreds outside watching from the street, were on hand to hopefully witness a fighting display from the locals though many were also keen to see visiting stars from the European leagues. Mark Viduka's name raised the biggest cheer from the home crowd when the Socceroos team was announced over the public address.
The Solomons, though, were not without their own heroes and there was no hiding the fact that Commins Menapi was the one most hoped would cause danger, as he did last year, to the Aussies. Menapi's strength and control on the ball was something missing from the Solomons game on Saturday night and his return after serving a suspension gave the Solomons the confidence to take on Australia.
And take on Australia, they did. This was certainly no stroll as Saturday night may have been for Australia and backed by a very vocal home crowd, the Solomons attacked, as opportunities allowed, with eagerness, speed and intent. Along with Menapi, both Bartram Suri and Henry Fa'arodo also looked keen on the ball but Australia generally managed to avert most of the dangers.
Though Archie Thompson's goal on 19 minutes, scored after receiving a Vince Grella pass and finding himself clear midway in the Solomons' half, initially silenced the crowd, it was the penalty decision just after the break which again gave the locals their voice.
Lucas Neill brought down Fa'arodo and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the spotkick. But the drama unfolded when Menapi's penalty attempt was saved by Kalac and following the ensuing hustle, Solomons midfielder George Lui was sent from the field. The referee then ordered the penalty to be retaken after Kalac was believed to have moved off his line.
A clearly agitated Kalac was forced this time to confront Henry Fa'arodo who put away the penalty and equaliser to the delight of the cheering, flag-waving crowd.
The impetus gained stirred the Solomons further, if only for a few minutes, but it was going to be too hard a task with only the ten men. And this lack of numbers showed when Brett Emerton found himself in plenty of space inside the area and while preparing to lay off the ball, realized that he had the time and space to steady and smash what would be the winner.
A final corner in the dying minutes gave the Solomons one last opportunity, but as the stadium reverberated to the chants of "Go Solo Go!, Go Solo Go!", the desperate Solomons header could only clear the bar.
written by Peter Rowney