Fiji have defeated Cook Islands 2-0 to claim the top spot in Group B, knocking the former front-runners down to second – and ending Tonga’s knockout stage hopes – in Group B’s final day of action at the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship this afternoon.
Their impressive 6-1 over American Samoa earlier in the morning had placed Tonga on equal points with Fiji but the Melanesians booked Tonga’s flight home only a few hours later with another outstanding performance.
The Cook Islands backline did well to hold out Fiji for the first minutes of the game but Eseta Sinukula found space in front of her in the 24th minute, weaved through the backline then placed the ball into goal at back post.
In the first minute of injury time Dilaisana Drodrolagi sealed the deal for Fiji when she converted a penalty to lift the tally to two.
Cook Islands fought hard for the equaliser but Fiji’s fitness proved a winning element for the side – Cook Islands were shut down up front then tested in defence for the full 90 minutes.
Fiji coach Marika Rodu was very proud to claim the top spot in the group and believed his side reach their peak in the crucial encounter.
“It was amazing to see the girls push up to another level today,” he said.
“I thought it was going to be mission impossible just looking at Cook Islands and their two strong wins but we didn’t let that get us down. We made sure we did our homework, compacted the midfield and focused on using the counter attack and managed to get the result.
“The girls’ performances have been progressing since day one. Today we played the match that we have never played before – not here in Samoa and not back home in Fiji.”
Despite securing their semi-final berth in their previous match, Cook Islands coach Theresa Tatuava was disappointed not to finish top of the group.
“We knew that we had a place in the semi-final but that wasn’t going to make us step down and take it easy,” she said.
“We wanted to seal our place and make sure we come away with a win but not everything can go your way at times. Not matter how much you prepare yourself, out there it won’t always turn out the way you wanted.
“I’m proud of our girls, they stuck in there and they fought as hard as they could to try and get a goal back but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
In the earlier match of the day, Tonga increased the pressure on Fiji with their 6-1 win over American Samoa.
Captain Seini Lutu shone throughout the entire match, opening the scoring for Tonga in the 17th minute then finding the net again late in the second half, all while dominating the midfield and creating countless opportunities up front for Lositika Feke, Carmel Uhila and Florence Hakalo.
It didn’t take long for Feke to profit from Lutu’s work in the middle, tapping a ball into goal after receiving a perfect pass at her feet in the box. Ana Povovili was next to get her name on the board, following up an American Samoa clearance and firing the ball over the hands of goalkeeper Zena Foma’i.
American Samoa fought back to get one on the board in the injury time of the first half, with Oloataua Tofaeono using her speed to break through the Tonga backline before carefully placing the ball out of goalkeeper Kalolaine Topui’s reach.
The debutant’s celebrations were short-lived, however, with back-to-back goals from Litea Taukapo and Siunipa Talasinga in the 72nd and 73rd minute extending Tonga’s margin.
With one win, one draw and one loss, Tonga’s OFC U-16 Championship campaign has come to an end, but Tonga coach Lafaele Moala has been more than happy with his team’s campaign.
“I’m so excited to see that we have improved from our weaknesses in the first game. The girls did great today. They did their best and never gave up,” he said.
“I’ve been happy with our overall performance despite our loss in the first game. We stuck to our plan and our objectives for this tournament.
“We plan on keeping this team together and preparing for the next U-20 competition. I want to keep this team and continue their training to become a better team in the future.”
American Samoa coach Ruth Tuato’o was proud to see a strong final fight from her side and is looking forward to returning home and developing from their experience.
“It was a tough one – Tonga really came with it this time round. The girls gave it their all and that’s all I can ask for,” she said.
“Gaining this experience with the girls and playing at this level and seeing how the other countries have developed – I couldn’t ask for more.
“Now we’re going to take back what we’ve learned from here and start training for the next time around.”