The stakes couldn’t be higher for hosts Tonga, American Samoa, Cook Islands and Samoa who are all vying for the last available place on offer at the OFC U-20 Championship hosted by Vanutau in September.
On the back of a draw with Tonga and a win over Samoa, Cook Islands will kick off Monday’s proceedings against American Samoa with their destiny in their own hands.
Tuka Tisam’s charges can book their ticket to the region’s premier youth competition with a win, which would also render the day’s second match between Tonga and Samoa a dead rubber.
With goalkeeper captain Keegan Inia’s safe pair of gloves combined with the power and creativity of playmaker Dwayne Tiputoa in midfield, Cook Islands look to have the recipe for success.
However Tisam is keen to play down his side’s chances.
“I wouldn’t say that we are the favourites to progress, this is still a very tight contest and I think it’s very much up in the air,” he says.
“We need a win against American Samoa and it won’t be easy.
“I think it will be another close and physical match and we can’t afford to get ahead of ourselves,” Tisam says.
Due to their negative goal difference American Samoa will need a big win over Cook Islands to keep their faint qualification hopes alive, but even that will not be enough if the result from the other match doesn’t go their way.
Despite not having the odds in their favour, Sione Mau is adamant his men have plenty to play for.
“Our aim is to improve in every game we play and we want to win our final match,” he says.
“We lost our first game, drew the second and I’m confident we can do one better the third time around.
“We will treat this match against Cook Islands as a must win game for us.”
Both Samoa and Tonga will keep a close on eye on the outcome of the opening match before they face off in a potentially decisive encounter.
Following their stylish and dominant opening display, the high flying Samoans were brought back to earth by a determined Cook Islands team.
Meanwhile hosts Tonga have only themselves to blame for wasting far too many good opportunities in their two draws with Cook Islands and American Samoa.
So far it’s been a frustrating journey for the home fans who saw plenty of creative endeavour from their side without sufficient return on the scoreboard.
Finishing could be once again the key against Samoa and coach Tevita Moala will be hoping for a clinical performance from his players in the final third.
The Tongan coach insists his side’s primary focus is to win.
“If we want to qualify for the next stage we must beat Samoa,” Moala says.
“We have to prepare with that goal in our mind.
”But regardless what happens in the previous match we will treat it as do-or-die final and we will do our best to win.”
Samoa will also be hoping for a favour from American Samoa before taking on the hosts.
Paul Ualesi’s men have showed plenty of quality all across the park in their previous two matches and have been somewhat unlucky to concede a fatal goal late in the game against Cook Islands.
As a result the Samoan coach is realistic about his side’s chances.
“It’s going to be tough for us to qualify because we need the other result to go our way,” Ualesi says.
“But we are still within a chance, so we will prepare hard and try our best because you never know.
“It won’t be easy against Tonga, it’s a home game for them and they will try just as hard.”
Cook Islands vs. American Samoa
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Monday 27 June, 2016
Referee: Joel HOPKKEN (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Jeffery SOLODIA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Ujwaal MUDLIAR (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Nelson SOGO (SOL)
The players: The team’s goalkeeper captain Keegan Inia has been in outstanding form in the opening two matches to concede only once while producing a string of quality saves. After coming close on a number of occasion against Tonga, experienced midfielder Dwayne Tiputoa has also underlined his importance by grabbing a late winner against Samoa.
The vital statistics: By conceding only one goal in two matches, Cook Islands have the best defensive record so far in the tournament. Another clean sheet in their final match could be the key to their success.
Coach quote: “We watched American Samoa against Tonga and they are a good team. I must say they surprised me, they came out to play and they have some quality players that can hurt us. I think it will be close.”
Squad list: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Jarves APERAU, 3. George ELLIS, 4. Sunai JOSEPH, 5. Michael WOOD, 6. William NAPA, 7. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 8. Cahjun WILLIS, 9. Maro BONSU-MARO, 11. Thane BEAL, 12. Melbourne MATAKINO, 13. Orin RUAINE-PRATTLEY, 14. Conroy TIPUTOA, 15. Bruce BIEN, 16. Kimiora SAMUELA, 17. Kristian YOUNG, 18. Dwayne TIPUTO
Coach: Tuka TISAM (COK)
The players: 15-year-old striker Steven Fiso has backed up his impressive opening performance with an even better display to get on the scoresheet against Tonga. Goalkeeper Kinilau Pouli has also showed why he is the captain of the side by keeping his cool to produce a crucial penalty save against the hosts.
The vital statistics: American Samoa will take a minus-4 goal difference into their final match, which means they will need a big win against the Cook Islands to have any chance of finishing on top. It’s a big ask from a side that only managed to score once in their previous two matches.
Coach quote: “Cook Islands are a good team but we have proved that we can compete at this level. The mood is very positive in the camp. We are stronger, we play better and we are growing in confidence.”
Squad list: 1. Kinilau POULI (GK), Sione MOEAKI, 3. Willie MALELE, 4. Frank HUNT, 5. Paul COLLINS, 6. Michael SETTLE, 7. Tauamo FE’A, 8. Joe PURCELL, 9. Steven FISO, 10. Ferrin MANULELEUA, 11. Gabriel TAUMUA, 12. Tor-Lawrence MANA’O, 13. Takai POULI, 14. Joseph CHOI, 15. Tala AUVAA, 16. Simi MOAETEAU, 17. Aliva NAUTU, 18. Masila SIUA, 23. Hinckley TUFA (GK)
Coach: Sione MAU (TGA)
Samoa vs. Tonga
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Monday, 27 June, 2016
Referee: Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Phul SINGH (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Isaac TREVIS (NZL)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
The players: Goalkeeper Faalavelave Matagi has been a rock at the back for much of Samoa’s opening two matches before a lapse of concentration by him cost his side the match against Cook Islands. The Samoan skipper will be determined to make amends for his mistake. The return of Pago Tunupopo from suspension will provide coach Paul Ualesi with another attacking outlet. The 19-year-old striker has proved his goalscoring prowess in Samoa’s opener, by netting twice inside ten minutes of his introduction as a second half substitute.
The vital statistics: Poor discipline remains a major frustration for coach Paul Ualesi after Vaa Taualai became the second Samoan player to receive a one match suspension.
Coach quote: “The players were really down after the loss to Cook Islands but we need to move on. We can’t afford to dwell on what happened. We have to forget all about it and focus on the next game.”
Squad list: 1. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK), 2. Peter HUNT, 3. Timothy HUNT, 4.Tauati TANOAI, 5. Maiseli MATAMU, 6. Xavier TANIELU, 7. Christopher GALE, 8. Vaa TAUALAI, 9. Samuel MALO, 10. Frank MARINER, 11. Brian SIMI, 12, Pago TUNUPOPO, 13. Esekielu LAUSSEN, 14. Joseph SELEMAIA, 15. Vaatausili VAA, 16. Timote FONI, 17. Slade OMERI, 18. Fagupo TELETOLIO, 19. Faafouina FELISE, 20. Eteuati TOMASI (GK)
Coach: Paul UALESI (SAM)
Tonga: The return of experienc
ed captain Hemaloto Polovili from suspension will be a major boost to the hosts. In Polovili’s absence Mahe Malafu wore the captain’s armband and the Tongan goalkeeper showed plenty of leadership qualities at the back to justify coach Tuka Tisam’s decision. The Tongans will also be hoping that Talatala Po’oi can continue his impressive form going forward.
The vital statistics: Tonga’s wastefulness in the final third has been a major concern for coach Tevita Moala. In their two matches so far the hosts produced 11 shots on target, hit the woodwork three times and missed a penalty.
Coach quote: “We will need to make significant improvements from our previous match against American Samoa. Against Samoa we will need to be more disciplined and stick to the game plan.”
Squad list: 1. Mahe MALAFU (GK), 2. Kilifi VEA, 3. Sione TUIFANGALOKA, 4. Sione KITE, 5. Tevita VAKATAPU, 6. Aisea MULI, 7. Soakai VEA, 8. Sateki MATAKAIONGO, 9. Vai LUTU, 10. Hemaloto POLOVILI, 11. Anthony LIKILIKI, 12, Fisi’ihoi PALU, 13. Timeth BOGIDUA 14. Hola MALAFU, 15. Talatala PO’OI, 16. Lachman ATOA, 17. Etilei TUIONO, 18. Folauhola MESUI, 19. Tevita TUKIMAKA, 20. Semisi OTUKOLO
Coach: Tevita MOALA (TGA)