Fiji will continue their journey on the Road to France 2019 after winning the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifier at Churchill Park thanks to the 2-0 win over American Samoa in their final match today.
Vanuatu ended up being Fiji’s closest rival in the fight for tickets after earning a slim 1-0 victory over Solomon Islands, knocking them out of contention, in the day’s opening match.
Fiji coach Marika Rodu was measured in his response following the game, with the excitement of qualifying mixing with thoughts of the task that awaits them in New Caledonia.
“There’s no need for us to celebrate,” Rodu said, “we have a tough journey ahead of us and that’s facing the other seven teams in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup next stage”.
Fiji’s victory on home soil means they will find themselves alongside Tonga, Cook Islands and defending champions New Zealand in Group B come November.
“It’s definitely going to be tough.
“I cannot promise that we will qualify to the finals, I cannot promise anything,” he said.
“All I can promise is the girls are ready to take it to the next level, improve their performances and some discipline in our game and be able to be dependable when they are in the game and to be flexible at times in terms of tactics.
“Overall the girls have learned a lot on this journey. I think we can take away the positives from this tournament but we also have to reflect on all three of our games and see what we can fine-tune ahead of the next stage of the Women’s World Cup qualifiers.”
American Samoa, knowing their opponent absolutely needed a win to progress, showed up ready to defend and for most of the first half they did a great job of it.
Keeping things tight at the back, and only advancing when they felt sure of themselves, kept Fiji contained and frustrated.
However when American Samoa had to make an injury-related substitution in the 38th minute, it left them momentarily vulnerable which is when Fiji struck.
Trina Davis got in first with a well worked goal which started in midfield before the striker was played on 1v1 with goalkeeper Manaia Siania-Unutoa, who got a hand to the shot which proved too powerful to halt.
Just ahead of half-time Fiji won the ball deep in their own half before sednignding long for Davis, she popped in a cross which was initially looking like it would be cleared only for Cema Nasau to collect and send into the top corner for Fiji’s second.
American Samoa were able to tighten things back up in the second half but Fiji already had what they needed from the encounter, a 2-0 victory and with it tickets to New Caledonia.
American Samoa coach Larry Mana’o said the result is nothing to be frowned at given the quality of the opponent, and the performance of his side.
“I think it was a tough match. We knew going in they had to score, they had win right and to win they had to score a goal at least,” he said.
“We knew that once they got a goal it was going to be tough, but I think it was close for a long time.
“Most of the game we played pretty well and I would say we learned a lot here.
“But Fiji is very strong. They’re a very tough team so it’s hard to get something out of the game when Fiji is in good form,” Mana’o concluded.
In the day’s opening match both Solomon Islands and Vanuatu needed the result to go their way if they had any hope of keeping their OFC Women’s Nations Cup dream alive.
But where Vanuatu has improved with each match they’ve played in Fiji, for Solomon Islands it was the opposite as their opponent had them on the back foot from the outset.
Looking as in-synch and determined as we had seen them so far Vanuatu’s early pressure paid off when Leisale Solomon found the back of the net just five minutes in.
While it buoyed Vanuatu to continue pushing high into the Solomon Islands final third, the early wake-up knocked their opponents into action.
They were able to get some shots of their own off but it was Vanuatu’s game as they rattled the woodwork and kept Margaret Kofela working hard to prevent anything else from slipping past her.
Unfortunately for Solomon Islands that opening five minutes were all it took to define the outcome of the match and they were left with their first loss of the competition.
For Vanuatu a second straight victory had them holding their breath ahead of the day’s second match with their six points momentarily putting them at the top of the standings.
However it was short lived as Fiji eventually did the business against American Samoa to claim the full three points to take out the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifier.
For Vanuatu coach George Kalo the final result was heartening for him as a coach with his side showing they were capable of much more than their opening result suggested.
“I’d like to say thank you to my girls,” Kalo said.
“I think they’ve done well after the first loss against Fiji. I’m very proud of the game today, that after the first loss we have managed to come up and work on our weaknesses and we won this game.
“The loss to Fiji was very much an education to us after we won the gold medal at the Pacific Mini Games. My sadness about the first game is over – I’m a proud coach and happy. I hope the Vanuatu fans are happy too.”
Meanwhile Solomon Islands coach Diane Justus was disappointed her side was unable to put the game plan into action against Vanuatu.
“The first half our plan didn’t work out according to what we expected. The opposition were more offensive which outnumbered our backline. Not only that, but our players were ball watching which is why it didn’t work out well,” she said.
“I expected Vanuatu to come out stronger, but for our team to go on stronger as well. Today we tried as much to have everyone go out there and perform, but the Vanuatu side were also determined to register three points.
“They were determined to score more goals, for us, we sat back a little bit and didn’t really utilise our chances.”
Fiji go on to join New Zealand, Cook Islands and Tonga in Group B of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup which is being held in New Caledonia the 18 November to 1 December 2018.