Stage 1 Qualifiers reach climax

Tonga and Cook Islands play at 3:00pm before the winner-takes-all match between Samoa and American Samoa at 5:30pm (local time). Here’s a look at the action that’s in store.
Tonga vs Cook Islands
Tonga and Cook Islands will play for pride on Saturday with both teams out of the running to qualify for Stage 2. The Tongans took out their two previous encounters in FIFA World Cup preliminaries winning 2-0 in 1998 and 2-1 in 2006. After a disappointing first up loss to American Samoa earlier in the week, coach Chris Williams was decidedly happier on Thursday when the team posted a 1-1 draw with Samoa. Goalkeeper Kaneti Falela was outstanding in that performance, and they will count themselves unlucky after the typically clinical Unaloto Feao missed a one-on-one opportunity right at the death. Against Cook Islands, Tonga will look to continue their physical approach while keeping disciplined on defense.
Cook Islands would not have expected to be winless going into the final day. It has been an unsettling few days for the squad with Paul Farrell-Turepu stepping in as caretaker coach just prior to their second match. But the Rarotongans will need to put that behind them and regroup if they’re to finish on a high. They can count on the fact that, while Tonga have a better record in World Cup qualifiers, Cook Islands enjoyed a series win in 2009 with two international friendlies ending 2-1 and 1-1 in their favour. Among the standouts this week has been speedster Campbell Best who put away two goals on day one and went close on Thursday hitting the post against American Samoa. Cook Islands are the only team to use two goalkeepers so far with Iona Lupena and Tony Jamieson battling for a starting spot in their final match.
In their own words
“I’m really proud of what the boys have done since the loss to American Samoa and have been really happy with the way they have responded. To be 1-0 down against arguably the best team here and to come back and draw is a good achievement. Now we need to finish off the tournament well on Saturday.” – Chris Williams, Tonga coach
“I think all the teams here are very good and any team could have won it. I thought we played well in the second half against American Samoa but the ball just didn’t want to go into the goal. We have a very good chance against Tonga but they will feel their chances of beating us are just as good. We need to have a really good training session and make sure we are ready for Saturday.” – Paul Farrell-Turepu, Cook Islands caretaker coach
Tonga [TGA] vs Cook Islands [COK]
Saturday 26 November
J.S. Blatter Stadium
Apia, Samoa
Local kick-off: 3:00pm
Assistant referee 1: Didier HMUZO [NCL]
Assistant referee 2: Jackson NAMO [SOL]
Fourth official: Andrew ACHARI [FIJ]
Samoa vs American Samoa
American Samoa are on a dream run having picked up their first ever win and draw in international football this week. They will once again go into their match against Samoa as underdogs, but the belief that coach Thomas Rongen has instilled in this side will surely count for a lot. Seattle-based goalkeeper Nicky Salapu continues to impress while Justin Mana’o has been a workhorse in midfield. Meanwhile Johnny Selau provides pace at the back that will be needed against Samoa’s strike force. A draw will not be enough for American Samoa so plenty rests on the shoulders of 17-year-old striker Shalom Luani, who could be in line for top goalscorer with two goals to his name.
Samoa have breezed past American Samoa in their past three FIFA World Cup qualifying matches – 8-0, 4-0 and 7-0 – but tomorrow’s game is expected to be much closer. Against Tonga on Thursday, the hosts dominated possession with Shaun Easthope leading the way in midfield, but they failed to convert a host of chances and lost their way towards the end of the match as Tonga exposed some defensive weaknesses. Overall, they have a good balance of technically gifted players such as Desmond Fa’aiuaso as well as intimidating battlers like Max Tom Hoeflich. Physically the two sides will match up evenly but one gets the feeling that tomorrow’s match will come down to a battle of wills more than anything. A bumper crowd is expected on Saturday, which will no doubt boost Samoa who only need a draw to win the tournament.
In their own words
“It is going to be tough and I have been very impressed with the way American Samoa has played. Their organisation and fitness levels are both really good and we will have to find a way to get around that and come out as winners. It is a bit more special because they are our neighbours but it is just another game really, it doesn’t change what we have to do.” – Tunoa Lui, Samoa coach
“You never know what’s going to happen on the field but there’s a lot of confidence in this team. I have faith in the players and the coaching staff and I believe we can do this. We’ve come a long way, so why stop now.” – Nicky Salapu, American Samoa goalkeeper
Samoa [SAM] vs American Samoa [ASA]
Saturday 26 November
J.S. Blatter Stadium
Apia, Samoa
Local kick-off: 5:30pm
Assistant referee 1: Jan HENDRIK-HINTZ [NZL]
Assistant referee 2: Ravinesh KUMAR [FIJ]
Fourth official: Averii JACQUES [TAH]

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