Oceania Football Confederation > News > FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Stage 1 > Samoa progress to Stage 2 after thrilling win

Samoa progress to Stage 2 after thrilling win

Although the tournament was based on a league system, the final group match was essentially a grand final as a win for American Samoa would have secured their passage to Stage 2 and Samoa needed at least a draw to make it through.
It looked like that might be the outcome as the final whistle drew near at 0-0 but Samoa finally broke through their neighbours’ remarkable defensive effort when Silao Malo slipped the ball past outstanding goalkeeper Nicky Salapu in the 89th minute.
That clash was obviously the highlight of the day but the earlier match also brought plenty of drama, Tonga earning the first win of coach Chris Williams’ reign with a 2-1 triumph over Cook Islands, who finish at the bottom of the table with only one point to their name.
Judged on past performances, American Samoa were expected to be the ones bringing up the rear but shocked the footballing world to post a win and a draw in their earlier games, thus giving themselves the chance to progress to Stage 2 against all odds.
That unlikely possibility very nearly became a reality as they frustrated Samoa for large periods and carved out several opportunities of their own, the best of which fell to Diamond Ott in the 81st minute. The second-half substitute found himself with just Samoa goalkeeper Masi Toetu to beat and knocked the ball past him, only to see it strike the upright and roll agonisingly to safety.
The hearts of the American Samoa players were then broken further just eight minutes later when Malo made a local hero of himself by finding the net with one of the last kicks of the game after a counter attack.
“We found it difficult to find a way through because American Samoa defended really well,” coach Tunoa Lui said. “Their goalkeeper played his guts out today and made a lot of great saves. Luckily for us, we finally managed to score and take the game. It means a lot to us because we haven’t participated in an international competition for four years. It’s something that will put our federation back on the map again.”
From a personal point of view, the win was also special for Lui as it allowed him to replace some painful World Cup qualifying memories with a more positive one. Lui is a former coach of the opponents his side faced today and was in charge of American Samoa in 2001 when they infamously lost 31-0 to Australia, a record that still stands as a record in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
Current American Samoa coach Thomas Rongen was disappointed to have fallen at the final hurdle but had nothing but praise for his team, whose performances this week have done much to redeem the reputation of American Samoan football across the globe.
“I can’t be prouder of a group of guys that came from absolutely nowhere and fought tooth-and-nail to make it this far,” he said. “We even had a chance to win the game, undeservedly maybe, when we hit the post towards the end. Our game plan was to hang in there and keep Samoa to zero for as long as possible because we knew we would get one chance to win it and we did. But in saying that the better team is going on to the next stage.”
Torrential downpours throughout most of the morning made play in the earlier game difficult but it was Tonga who dealt better with the challenging conditions and avoided the wooden spoon by posting their first win of the tournament.
Goals to Tonga’s Timote Maamaloa and Cook Islands’ Grover Harmon, in the 26th and 35th minutes respectively, made the score 1-1 at the break and, as was the case in the second game, it appeared as if the scoring was over as the match approached its conclusion. But Kinitoni Falatau had other ideas and struck in the last minute with an impressive finish after fine build-up play by Fineasi Palei.
“I thought the boys deserved the win, they’ve been training for a long time and put in a lot of effort today,” coach Williams said. “If you go back over the three games though, it’s a case of what if for us. If we’d made the most of our chances in this tournament who knows what could have happened. But we’re really happy to finish like that and hopefully it’s onwards and upwards for Tongan football.”
Cook Islands caretaker coach Paul Farrell-Turepu admitted the loss was a disappointing way to end the competition.
“We were hoping for better things but it just didn’t go our way,” he said. “The conditions made it hard but, to be fair, both teams had to deal with that and the winner was always going to be whoever adapted best.”
Samoa will now join the seven other OFC nations fighting for a place at the 2014 World Cup, namely Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu, in Fiji next June.
Tonga vs. Cook Islands: Download Match Summary Here
Samoa vs. American Samoa: Download Match Summary Here
For the Competition Summary click here
For the full schedule and results table click here

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