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It was a dramatic finish in the other Group A clash as Papua New Guinea scored in the dying moments against Vanuatu to pull it back to 5-2 but it wasn’t enough for Max Foster’s side.
A teary Ravinesh Kumar spoke of his relief after that match which included a hat-trick from Jone Salauneune and goals to Vilitati Ratu and Noa Vukica
“Even though it was only one goal difference between us and Papua New Guinea, we are very happy that we have made it through,” said the Fiji coach.
“I’d like to thank all the players for their hard work and blessings to everyone back home, especially all the parents, for their messages of support.”
It was a slow start for Fiji in wet, muddy conditions at Mangere’s Centre Park as they went in search of goals knowing that goal difference could be the decider after their 0-0 draw with Papua New Guinea on day one.
Vilitati Ratu blasted a shot just over the bar in the 25th minute while Noa Vukica’s effort from point blank range was somehow kept out by American Samoa goalkeeper Rhine Samuela minutes later.
Fiji became desperate as half-time approached and Ratu made no mistake with his next chance on 39 minutes when he won possession and stormed into the box to finish well with his left-foot.
Moments later Salauneune headed home Poasa Bainivalu’s corner to give Fiji a two goal cushion at half-time while Papua New Guinea had already conceded three against Vanuatu to help their cause.
Half-time substitute Krishneel Krishna, brother of Fijian speedster Roy Krishna, made an immediate impact down the right flank assisting Salauneune in the 48th minute before Noa Vukica made it four shortly after.
Fiji looked on track when the Fijian number 7 completed his hat-trick after 64 minutes but Ismael Herrera pulled one back for American Samoa in the 84th minute outmuscling his defender inside the box and toe-poking the ball past goalkeeper Akuila Mateisuva to make it a nervous finish for Kumar.
“They scored against the run of play and I was worried that it would cost us but it was a huge relief to be told we were through to the semis after the final whistle.”
American Samoa coach Rupeni Luvu believes Fiji deserve to stay in the tournament.
“I think Fiji were the second best team in this group with their strength and height advantage. They played well today and I think they will be competitive in the semi finals.”
After three straight losses, Luvu is disappointed with the results but says his players have learned plenty from the experience.
“It was pleasing to score in our last two matches but our defense wasn’t good enough. I don’t think the weather conditions suited us but we gave it everything in all three matches. Now we have to look at the leagues back home to see how we can improve and become more competitive next time.”
Fiji finish second behind Vanuatu in Group A and will go on to play the top team from Group B who will be known following the third match on day three between New Zealand and New Caledonia.