Cook Islands are the first nation to qualify for the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship semi-finals after defeating American Samoa 4-0 in the second day of action for Group B at J.S. Blatter Football Complex in Apia, Samoa this afternoon.
Although their final placing won’t be confirmed until the last matches for Group B on Friday, Cook Islands secured at least a second place finish in the group – enough to qualify – after Fiji and Tonga’s 0-0 draw in the opening match of the day.
Tehinnah Tatuava opened the scoring for Cook Islands in the fourth minute – tapping the ball in at front post after receiving a corner kick at her feet – and Piri Murare followed up in the 20th minute after a penalty was given to Cook Islands following a collision in American Samoa’s penalty box. Murare threw everything behind the well-placed attempt, giving goalkeeper Zena Foma’I little chance of reaching a glove to the ball.
Ngame Taringa added to the tally in the second half, sending a long-range attempt just under the crossbar in the 52nd minute before Murare converted another penalty to bring Cook Islands’ tally to four.
Although the result didn’t fall in their favour, American Samoa played long periods of outstanding football.
Oloataua Tofaeono’s speed down the left wing and combinations with captain Elcy Naolavoa created multiple chances, but composure on the ball and good communication between Cook Islands’ Teretia Teinaki, Esther Potoru, Tia Tuivaga and Merran Munro made their backline a hard wall to penetrate.
Down the other end of the pitch, central defenders Jane Faumuina and Maricar Parungo repeated their courageous performances from American Samoa’s opening match, throwing their bodies on the line several times to block Cook Islands’ waves of attempts.
Although Cook Islands coach Theresa Tatuva was relieved to qualify for the knockout stage, she was disappointed to see her side’s momentum drop once they had secured a comfortable lead.
“They relaxed and took it for granted,” she said.
“They got a bit complacent after getting a few goals ahead and that is not something we can afford to do.
“We’ve prepared our girls to come here and compete and that’s what we need to do. We need to step up a bit more, we can’t afford to relax.”
Although their hard work was not rewarded with a goal this time around, American Samoa coach Ruth Tuato’o was pleased to see her side show huge improvement in their organisation on the field.
“Our first game was our first time ever in this kind of tournament so that helped us to prepare for this game and we’ve been working hard on the organisation of our team on the field,” she said.
“It was a tough match and Cook Islands were a really tough team but I can’t ask for anything else from the girls except to just prepare for the next game. I’m very proud of my girls.”
Fiji and Tonga were inseparable in the opening match of the day despite a strong start from Tonga and a dominant second half from a very fit Fiji side.
Tonga played with a higher intensity from the starting whistle, looking faster and hungrier than they did in their opening match against Cook Islands.
Seini Lutu completely dominated in the middle of the park, leading Tonga forward and creating several opportunities up front that Ana Polovili and Lositika Feke were always just short of converting. Lutu was unlucky not to find the net herself, lining up two attempts from free kicks after fouls from Fiji just outside the box.
Kalolaine Topui showed huge improvement between the posts, keeping Tonga in the game in the second half when Fiji lifted and started pushing numbers into the box.
Despite multiple determined build-ups between Dilaisana Drodrolagi, Viniana Buke and Avisaki Toro, Topui – along with Mele Kaka, Siunipa Talasinga and Ofa Ataongo who all had outstanding games in the backline – kept the Tonga goal threat-free for the majority of the game.
Fiji looked like they were going to find the net deep in the second half but Tonga persisted, throwing themselves in front of every ball then counter attacking down the wings. Injury time was in Tonga’s favour, giving the Polynesians a few last chances, but a missed attempt from Ofa Fisi off Lutu’s corner kick ended the game without a goal on the scorecard.
Fiji coach Marika Rodu was disappointed with the result – especially with Cook Islands sure to challenge them in their next encounter – but gave credit to both teams for determined performances.
“Tonga was a strong side and the girls knew they would have to dig deep today,” he said.
“Coming away with a draw keeps our chances alive but now we’re going to need to work hard in our last game.
“Hats off to the girls for what they did today and we look forward to the game against Cook Islands.”
After focusing their past few trainings on fixing errors from their opening match, Tonga coach Lafaele Moala was happy to get a point on the table and pleased see improvement in the key areas he highlighted to the team.
“I am quite happy about our second match because our girls improved from our weaknesses in the first game. In our first game we were lacking in communication which is what we’ve been working on it our trainings,” he said.
“We had a chance to score which we missed but I think we’ll be able to work on that in our next training for the last game.”