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Kiwi close in on qualification

For Kiwi the victory means a win on the final match day on 30 January will guarantee them qualification through to the group stages of the 2016 OFC Champions League in New Zealand.
After conceding two penalties inside the opening 25 minutes – one of which was missed by Jared Colligan, the other saved by keeper James McPeake – Samoa club champions Kiwi found their way into the game and did enough to see off their rivals from the Cook Islands.
Coach Martin Tamasese couldn’t hide his joy post-match.
“I am so happy for the team, this is a huge result for us,” Tamasese says.
“I am delighted with the performance of our goalkeeper who saved the penalty; that really saved our team at that point.
“But we were always confident we could do better than we did in the first 20 minutes of the match, and once we found our way in the game we played well.”
After getting through an opening half hour to the match which saw Tupapa dominate possession and scoring chances, Kiwi were able to find some success down the flanks with Martin Packer and Mike Saofaiga.
And just two minutes after avoiding going behind after conceding their second penalty, it was Saofaiga who put Kiwi in front with a 38th-minute strike across goal and into the empty net.
An athletic leaping save from McPeake right on half time following a Rhys Ruka bullet ensured Kiwi took a 1-0 lead to the sheds.
The importance of the game resulted in tensions boiling over on a couple of occasions in the second period, with Harlem Simiona, Jarrell Sale and Packer all picking up yellow cards for their parts in skirmishes.
On 65 minutes Kiwi doubled their lead after Tomas Mosquera burst through the heart of the Tupapa defence and poked his shot around keeper Sacha Nathu.
As the final 20 minutes approached Tupapa looked out on their feet, but were hit back to life in the 75th minute when Simiona scored arguably the goal of the tournament so far.
After receiving the ball 30 yards out Simiona dribbled a number of would-be defenders before producing a delicate finish under pressure to bring the score back to 2-1.
Tupapa had chances to draw even in the final 15 minutes, with Josh Karika and Simiona both coming close, but in the end couldn’t find a way past McPeake in the Kiwi net.
After the match Tupapa coach Delaney Yaqona rued the two missed penalties early in the match, believing it took away much of the momentum his team was building.
“If you look at the game as a whole we have got ourselves to blame, we had two penalties in the first half which we needed to convert,” Yaqona says.
“Missing those two penalties did put us back, especially in the first 20 to 25 minutes when we were dominating the game.
“We gave away a very easy goal – Kiwi were very clever in the way they worked it – and we had to do things smarter today, but unfortunately in patches we weren’t smart enough.
“After we scored that goal the urgency did come back, but it was something we needed a lot earlier in the game.”
The other game on Match Day 2 saw American Samoa champions Utulei Youth beat Tonga club winners Veitongo FC 3-2 to keep their hopes of winning the competition alive.
After surrendering a 2-0 lead to sit tied at 2-all heading into the 15 minutes Utulei rallied to secure the crucial victory and end Veitongo’s hopes at the competition.
Coach Ututoa Ino spoke of his relief at getting the three points.
“It was really tough when they began to come back at us,” Ino says.
“We were on our heels and were just trying to figure out how to stay in the game.
“I think we kind of slipped away from our game plan and were concentrating too much on attack, we needed to stay together but we ended up leaving people stranded in defence.
“Luckily we got there in the end.”
Gun Kang got the scoring started in the 15th minute when he raced in behind the Veitongo defence and got just enough on the ball to beat the advancing Brady Lauti.
Half an hour later Kang turned provider, linking up with Ryan Samuelu to one-two through the opposing defence before Samuelu finished into the corner of the net.
Somewhat against the run of play Veitongo hit back just a few minutes later, scoring a 39th-minute goal via Hemaloto Polovili who ran past both central defenders and finished neatly for Veitongo’s first goal of the tournament.
They should have had another just eight minutes later after being awarded a penalty, only for Polovili to push the attempt to the right of the posts.
The opening exchanges of the second half saw Veitongo push on for an equaliser, and had it not been for a couple of quality blocks and tackles from American Samoa national team member Neemia Kaleopa they would have probably found one.
Another penalty after Utulei fouled a Veitongo player in the box presented the perfect opportunity to even things up, and veteran midfielder Kilifi Uele made no mistake from the spot.
After dominating so much of the game Utulei now looked in genuine danger of losing, but were able to take full advantage of a free kick from just outside the box on 84 minutes.
Kaleopa Siligi firing his free kick – with the help of a deflection off a defender – into the top right of the net to wrestle back the lead.
An athletic diving save from Utulei custodian Jonathan Faavae in the 89th minute made sure there would be no late comeback, securing the 3-2 victory for the American Samoa side, who must now win by a large margin against Tupapa on Match Day 3 to have any hope of winning the OFC Champions League Preliminary.
For Veitongo the loss marks the end of their tournament, with coach Tuia Falepapalangi blunt in his appraisal post-match.
“We are very disappointed with how we performed,” Falepapalangi says.
“We had a lot of chances to score goals but we couldn’t put it away. We emphasised that in the build up to the match but unfortunately we couldn’t get it done.
“Now we just have to look ahead and make sure we at least get a win from this tournament.”
Match Day 3 sees Kiwi FC face off with Veitongo FC, while Tupapa will meet Utulei Youth.

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