Solomons' crazy, unique journey

For the uninitiated, the Solomon Islands’ record at the FIFA Futsal World Cup makes for tough reading. Eight games, seven defeats, one win and 103 goals conceded. But those in the know realise, for a team like the Kurukuru, statistics are close to useless in telling their story so far.

Colombia 2016 is their third appearance at the finals, having turned up in the home of futsal at Brazil 2008 with what was a group of ecstatic, overawed and, frankly, underprepared teenagers to take on the game’s elite. Their average age was 18.5 years old.

Five players remain from that side, four of which have appeared at all three tournaments, and three of those sat down with to take stock of what has frankly been an unbelievable eight years.

Sat in their dressing room at Bucaramanga’s Coliseo Bicentenario, where just hours earlier they had pushed the CONCACAF champions Costa Rica all the way in a hard-fought 4-2 defeat, the difference between now and their last time they were in South America couldn’t be starker.

“It was unbelievable that first time,” Samuel Osifelo said. “We were so young, just teenagers, playing on that stage in 2008. Over those eight years we’ve learned a lot about this game.”

“When we were in Brazil, we didn’t know how to play - it was our first time,” defender James Egeta admitted. “It was kids playing against grown men. This time around we’re here to compete, not just to give people an easy game, and the match with Costa Rica shows what we can do.”

“2008 was unbelievable. We were sent there, came up against those guys and, to look back, it was crazy,” captain Elliot Ragomo added. “But you put Costa Rica up compared to even where we are now and the people in the Solomons would have never believed we could play them like we did.”

When you consider that nearly 70 per cent of the goals they’ve conceded – 31 of which in a record defeat to Russia – were in Brazil, the statistics really do began to feel meaningless against the backdrop of a “unique and crazy team” of friends transformed.

“The more years we’ve been through, the more we've changed,” Ragomo explained. “We have this competitive mind state: we come out and we want to win. In 2008 we went there just to have fun, we came out there to play.”

Playing against a legendAnd the high-point of that experience – and all of their World Cups to date – is unanimous: Falcao. “Ever since this game was introduced to us at 12 years old and we saw Falcao, for me personally, I just said ‘I wish I could get to play against this guy’ and then my dream came true,” Egeta beamed about sharing the pitch with his idol. “It was the most enjoyable moment for me to play against Falcao, even though we lost 21-0 to them!”

Ragomo added: “We all grew up just watching his videos on YouTube and to play against him was unbelievable.” The surreal thing is, should the four – which includes Micah Leaalafa – continue into their late 30s, they could even surpass the great man’s newly-set tournament appearance record, standing at five.

But back home they are already heroes of the game. “If anything happens when it comes to football for us, there’s basically a public holiday across Solomon Islands,” Samuel explained. “Whenever we go and come back we always find people waiting for us at the airport.”

“The main thing for us is we’re putting Solomons somewhere in the world,” Ragomo said, but also underlined that for them to make that next step, they need growth at home too. “We are probably the only national team who don’t have a futsal court, and you have to take that into account.”

But should they keep on this upward trajectory, with opportunities arising to play consistently until the next tournament in 2020, where could they get to next? “Make the second round? Quarter-finals? Semi-finals?" Ragomo signed off as they left for training. "That’s going to be our aim now.”