It may have been a lone goal that saw Solomon Islands past Tahiti in the quarter finals of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, but it was goal brimming with history, heartbreak, sweat and promise.
For Solomon Islands to qualify for the semi-finals of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup for the first time since 2010 is a massive achievement for the nation.
Ranked 98th in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings following an impressive fourth place finish back in 2010, the side is currently ranked 120th and banking on improving that in the next rankings release.
Captain Ileen Pegi was a key member of the 2010 squad, alongside midfielder Mesalyn Saepio, and said the team were hugely disappointed not to go one step further and qualify for the final, but acknowledge the importance of even making the semi-finals.
“I’m happy. The girls have done well, we’ve come a long way and faced many challenges so for us to reach the semi-finals is a big achievement for me, but also for Solomon Islands women’s football,” Pegi said.
“This team is a mix of seniors and young, talented ones too. We’ve stayed humble and patient and we have one aim, one goal, and that is to reach the final.
“We were able to achieve a place in the semi-final and even though we didn’t make the final there is still an opportunity for us to make history.”
In 2018, Solomon Islands had to come through the qualifying stage where, after beating American Samoa and drawing with eventual qualifiers Fiji, were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Vanuatu to deny them a place in the tournament proper in New Caledonia.
Obviously disheartened to see their journey end early, Pegi believes it was the jump start Solomon Islands needed to improve women’s football development.
“I would say that women’s football development has improved a lot since 2018,” the 30-year-old said.
The Solrais Women’s Premier League was launched in 2020 and expanded to include a further three clubs in 2021, showing a demand for regular women’s football exists in Solomon Islands.
A member of the Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF) Executive Committee, Angeline Vave has had a long association with women’s football in Solomon Islands.
With increased investment from the international governing body FIFA, through its Women’s Football Development Programme, there has been an increased drive to improve and develop the women’s game in Solomon Islands.
“I think the drive for me personally, as the representative of women’s football in Solomon Islands, is to prove to ourselves first and foremost, that we can do it.
“Despite and in spite of the challenges we have back home, I think the important thing that has kept us going is the support of our families. Without that I don’t think women’s football would have come this far.”
Vave said cultural challenges have always been a barrier in countries like the Solomon Islands where women hold specific roles in their households and communities.
However, she said the impact of cultural constraints has lessened over time.
“Culture is a big thing, but it’s no longer an issue or obstacle in the same way it was in the past,” Vave said.
“I think family is number one. Women have to be supported by their husbands in all their endeavours and I believe that has been important to these girls in particular.
“What brought these girls forward and made them play so hard, despite the criticism and whether people support us or don’t support us, has been the focus on our collective objective.
“We are here to compete and prove to ourselves, first of all, but also to our people back home, that women can achieve greater results as well, provided we have the right support.”
Vave said the support for the women’s game in Honiara has been spectacular, but with talent spread across the Solomon Islands provinces, the focus has to start expanding into the regions.
“What I’d like to see is even more development in the provinces because we’ve got a lot of talented players out there, it’s just that we’ve been a bit slow in developing outside of Honiara.”
However, the introduction of the SIFF Iumi Play programme has inspired a renewed focus on a greater spread of development.
“The geographical landscape of Solomon Islands is a challenge, but I don’t think it’s the whole problem because even if you just have a few centres where kids can start to play, that’s all you need,” she said.
“I think Iumi Play is definitely helping with that development and I’m seeing a really positive impact from the programme.
“I believe with that being rolled out to the provinces, it will really change women’s football, and football as a whole in our country. It’s all going to have a very positive impact.”