Late strikes see Samoa through

Tonga also ended their campaign at the 2016 OFC U-17 Championship Preliminary on a high after beating American Samoa 2-0 in the opening match.
Samoa coach Desmond Faaiuaso was a bundle of nerves on the bench as his side waited until the dying minutes of the game to steal the lead and the victory.
“I was very nervous until the last, I think, two minutes when we scored two beautiful goals.
“It was a great performance, I’m very lucky to have this group of players that I’m coaching. They are very special.”
The deciding match was always expected to be a tight one with the hosts needing a win to keep their dream of progressing alive.
Cook Islands were equally determined to achieve their goal.
Although they took a cautious, defensive approach – needing only a draw to see them through – the team still managed to threaten Samoa’s backline.
As the lone striker Conroy Tiputoa had his work cut out for him but he never made it easy and forced goalkeeper Eti Fatu into making a number of daring runs out of the safety of his area to deny the goal.
It was an incredibly even match with Samoa counter-attacking at pace, often putting Cook Islands on the back-foot. Sauiluma was the backbone of the squad, showing up all over the park. Unafraid to take players on, he wove through the middle and unleashed a series of powerful shots to test Manaariki Pierre’s reflexes.
It continued to be a back-and-forth encounter right up until the dying stages of the match when Osa Savelio, who had spent most of the game at right back before moving into an attacking role, sent the ball spiralling into the back of the net on the stroke of 90 minutes.
With just the additional time to play Cook Islands made a double substitution, but it proved too little, too late as Sauilima sealed the victory for Samoa in the fourth minute of additional time.
For Richard Anderson and his charges it was a devastating end to what had been an excellent campaign from the Cook Islanders.
“There have been a few tears shed in the changing room,” he says.
“I can’t fault the boys for their effort, commitment, discipline or dedication tonight – it was spot on.
“I think it’s one of the cruellest ways to miss out on qualification in the dying minutes.”
While the opening match between American Samoa and Tonga had no bearing on the results of the competition, there was plenty of pride on the line for the two nations.
Gone are the days of brute physical influence with Tonga looking a well-organised package throughout this competition, and against American Samoa it was no different.
When they keep the ball on the ground and concentrate on completing their passes they are a formidable opponent and American Samoa learned that the hard way.
When Opesi Tuifangaloka won the ball in midfield he had several options and made the right choice when he sent Tevita Kau through on goal in the 11th minute.
Following the early goal American Samoa were forced to make an early change, bringing Milo Tiatia on in place of Tala Auvaa. While the side made a couple of counter-attacks, it was Tonga who were again next on the scoresheet.
American Samoa goalkeeper made an error when he handled the ball outside the area allowing Ofa Kite the opportunity to curl a free kick around the wall and into the net off the diving keeper’s glove.
The remainder of the match was played out in the middle of the field for much of the time as both teams struggled to hold on to possession for too long. There were more opportunities for American Samoa in the second half with Gabriel Taumua’s free kicks proving testing along with the powerful runs from Steven Fiso.
American Samoa coach Fred Maiava says he had hoped for a better result, but was still happy with the way his players held themselves in this match, and during the tournament itself.
“I really have to thank the boys for their performance. I like the way they organised themselves and they stopped Tonga from scoring more than two goals,” he says.
“We came so far but we missed out, we had chances to prove ourselves but in the end couldn’t. But it’s not the end for this side,” he says.
“My last word for these three teams is that we will be back.”
For Timote Moleni it was great to get three well-deserved points after coming so close in their two previous matches.
“Of course we are very happy with this last game. They did their best out there and that’s why we got the win today.”
Samoa will join the seven remaining OFC Member Associations at the 2017 OFC U-20 Championship in Tahiti.

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