Tongan eyes were smiling on the opening match day at the 2019 OFC Champions League Qualifier tournament as Lotoha’apai United FC put Pago Youth to the sword while hosts Tupapa Maraerenga FC produced an equally devastating performance to brush aside their Samoan rivals Kiwi FC.
Following days of heavy rain in Rarotonga the sun shone brightly in time for kick off in the tournament opener between the top teams from Tonga and American Samoa at the island’s picturesque CIFA Complex.
Determined to make good use of the improving conditions Lotoha’apai United showed plenty of intent from the outset to put their opponent under intense pressure, only to be frustrated by a well organised and hardworking Pago Youth defence.
Growing in confidence the American Samoans have flexed their own counter attacking muscle to take the lead against the run of play in the 45th minute thanks to Puni Samuelo who spotted the Tongan keeper off his line before lobbing the ball over him from distance.
It didn’t take long for Lotoha’apai to get back on level terms following the half-time break courtesy of Tuia Falepapalangi who netted twice more in quick succession to complete an impressive second half hat-trick by the 66th minute.
Hema Polovili made it 4-1 for the Tongan champions before Tuia’s father Pua Falepapalangi put the icing on the cake by creating family and Pacific Island football history.
Lotoha’apai coach Lui Muavesi heaped praise on the father and son duo which contributed four of his side’s five goals in a famous and crucial victory.
“Tuia is one of the most promising young talents, he represented Tonga at Under-20 level and he is one of the players to watch in the Pacific.
“It’s also a piece of history playing with his dad in the field, his father who is the captain, and they scored four goals between them, it’s history for Tonga and also for Oceania.” Muavesi said.
Despite the defeat Pago Youth coach Rambo Tapui was also keen to focus on the positives.
“I think our effort was better than I expected, I think the boys came out with a lot of credit, but no excuses.
“We competed well in the first half but we have to work on our fitness, I think our fitness let us down in the end,” added the Pago Youth coach.
Expectant local fans didn’t need to wait long for something to cheer about as Harlem Simiona and Grover Harmon were both on target inside the opening 20 minutes to give the tournament hosts Tupapa Maraerenga a two goal lead against Kiwi FC in the second match of the opening day.
Federico Diaz pulled a goal back for the Samoan champions from the penalty spot before Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri restored his side’s two goal cushion in the 27th minute.
Following a frantic and entertaining first half Kiwi FC still had every reason to fancy their chances before red cards to Falaniko Nanumea in the 61st minute and another to Andrew Setefano seven minutes later sealed the Samoans’ fate.
To make matter worse for the visitors Ben Mata made no mistake from the penalty spot to seal a 4-1 victory for the hosts in the 70th minute.
Kiwi FC fought bravely with nine men in the last 20 minutes to keep the scores at bay and even created a couple of chances of their own on the counter to the delight of their coach Martin Tamesese.
“Yes nine against eleven but we still managed to hold on.
“We still have hope for the two more games left, the boys know what happened here today is now finished, we just have to prepare for the rest of the tournament,” the former Samoan international said.
Despite a few positives for the Samoan champions it was the locals who had every reason to celebrate and Tupapa coach Delenay Yaqona couldn’t hide his delight.
“It was a really good game, we were really looking forward to it, we really wanted to win it, we knew they were going to be our toughest opposition in this tournament and it was good to win it and get it out of the way”.
Yaqona believes there is a strong bond between his players which bodes well for the hosts’ chances for the rest of the tournament.
“The boys know each other, they are like brothers out there and their little connections on the field have been there for a couple of years now,” the Tupapa coach explained.